Monday, March 25, 2002
Bates returns with low-money, high-upside deal
By Len Pasquarelli
Four-time Pro Bowl special teams standout Michael Bates, released by the
Washington Redskins two weeks ago, is headed back to the scene of his
Bates, 32, has agreed to a one-year contract with the Carolina Panthers, for
whom he played five seasons, a period during which he became a Pro Bowl
fixture. He will sign a one-year contract for $750,000 as the Panthers take
advantage of a new rule that grants a team a salary cap break when it signs
long-time veterans to minimum salary deals.
Although the Panthers will pay Bates $750,000, he will count only $450,000
against their 2002 cap, because of the new rule.
The 10-year veteran played last season with the Redskins, having signed with
Washington last spring as an unrestricted free agent after his Panthers
contract lapsed. Carolina made no effort at the time to retain Bates,
because the team had chosen return specialist Steve Smith in the third round
of the draft.
Smith had an outstanding season as a rookie, returning two kickoffs and one
punt for scores, but might be used more at wide receiver under rookie coach
John Fox this year. And with Smith and Bates likely aligned in tandem on
kickoff returns, the Panthers should possess one of the finest and most
potent tandems in the league.
Bates is among the all-time league leaders in kickoff returns, with 347
runbacks for 8,422 yards and five touchdowns. He has 10 punt returns for 44
yards, 12 rushes for 33 yards and 12 catches for 158 yards. Beyond his
return skills, Bates also has been one of the top special teams players in
the NFL on kickoff and punt coverage, and his kamikaze style helped get him
to the Pro Bowl.
The former University of Arizona star, who won a bronze medal in the
200-meter dash at the '92 Olympics, was named to the Pro Bowl team each
He entered the league with the Seattle Seahawks as a sixth-round pick in the
1992 draft, played for Cleveland in 1995 and then signed with Carolina as a
free agent in 1996.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.