Cincinnati Bengals' Jessie Bates III and Kansas City Chiefs' Orlando Brown Jr. face uncertain futures

Would Jessie Bates, who was key to the Bengals' Super Bowl run, sit out the season instead of playing under a franchise tag? Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Two Super Bowl contenders are still trying to figure out if they will have a couple of their best players this season.

Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III and Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. have yet to sign their franchise-tag tenders. Neither player was able to secure a long-term deal by the NFL’s July 15 deadline and cannot negotiate contracts until after the season.

But the short-term outlook remains murkier. Kansas City remains hopeful Brown will be able to protect Patrick Mahomes, one of the league’s top quarterbacks. Meanwhile, the Bengals are looking for Bates to anchor a secondary and defense that propelled Cincinnati to its first Super Bowl appearance in 33 years.

Here’s a look at the situations involving Bates and Brown as training camp approaches.

How did they get here?

ESPN Bengals reporter Ben Baby: Bates and the Bengals tried to get a long-term deal before the 2021 offseason, but talks stalled. “I guess I haven’t done enough yet to be considered one of the top safeties in this league, which is fine,” Bates said last August. When Bates was given the franchise tag in March, the team believed its offer should have been enough to secure Bates’ long-term future in Cincinnati. “Over the past year, we've tried to extend his contract here in Cincinnati, and while that hasn't come to pass, we want him here for 2022 to be a part of what we think should be an exciting football season and bright future for our organization,” executive vice president Katie Blackburn said in a statement in March.

ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher: The Chiefs acquired Brown last year from the Baltimore Ravens after he requested a trade. Brown preferred to play left tackle, something the Ravens wouldn’t allow him to do, but the Chiefs would. He played last season on the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie in 2018. The Chiefs declared Brown their franchise player shortly after the season, meaning they were obligated to offer him a one-year contract worth $16.6 million to keep him from being a free agent. The sides recently discussed a long-term deal with ESPN reporting the Chiefs’ offer to be $139 million over six years, including $95 million over the first five.

What are the options?

Baby: The options are fairly limited for both sides. Since Bates hasn’t signed his franchise tender, Cincinnati cannot trade him, according to the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union. If Bates signs his tender, he will be owed $12.9 million this season. Bates has until Nov. 15 to sign the tender. Otherwise, he’ll be ineligible to play until 2023.

Teicher: Brown can either sign the one-year, $16.6 million contract offer or he can sit out the season. It’s up to him. The Chiefs could also trade Brown, but it’s difficult to picture any other team willing and able at this point of the year to pay Brown beyond what the Chiefs offered.

What happens if there’s a parting of the ways?

Baby: Cincinnati prepared a contingency plan for a post-Bates future. The Bengals drafted Michigan safety Dax Hill with their first-round pick. With Bates absent from offseason workouts amid his contract situation, Hill took over as Cincinnati’s starting free safety. If Bates has no intention of playing on the franchise tag, the team could be depending on Hill much earlier than expected.

Teicher: The Chiefs have no obvious candidate to replace Brown if he declines to sign the one-year contract. Their options in terms of backup tackles include Lucas Niang, a third-round pick in 2020. But Niang has played only right tackle for the Chiefs and he missed all of offseason practice while rehabbing from a torn patellar tendon that ended his 2021 season prematurely. The Chiefs also have Geron Christian, who has started 16 games in his four-year NFL career, and Darian Kinnard, a fifth-round draft pick. The Chiefs used guard Joe Thuney at left tackle in one game last season when Brown was out with an injury, and Thuney played well. He could be an option, with coach Andy Reid saying Friday, "We know Joe Thuney can do it in a heartbeat. If we need to go that direction, we'll go that direction." There are some accomplished veterans available as free agents, including former Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher.