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Monday, March 25, 2002
Bates returns with low-money, high-upside deal

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

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 greatest accomplishments.

Bates
Bates

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 season 1996-99.

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.