Ryan Bates played high school football at Archbishop Wood outside of Philadelphia, had a Fathead poster of Brian Westbrook in his bedroom, and wished he could be a power forward for the 76ers. So signing with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent from Penn State felt like a dream come true.
The dream lasted three months in 2019, until the Eagles traded Bates for Buffalo. Turns out it was a dream come true.
“At the end of the day, it’s the best thing that could have happened to me,” Bates told Buffalo Bills in front of reporters about the trade. “I wouldn’t change anything about what happened. It’s one of the best things that happened in my career as a footballer, being traded. Because I wouldn’t have the contract that I have and that I wouldn’t be with the team I’m on.”
Bates recently signed a four-year contract with the Bills worth $17 million, according to the Buffalo News, with the first two years guaranteed. A restricted free agent, Bates re-signed with the Bills after the team reportedly matched an offer sheet from the Chicago Bears.
As Bates wanted.
“The last two weeks have been very long,” Bates said. “I said [Bills General Manager Brandon Beane] at the end of the season that I want to be Bill and I want to stay in Buffalo. Fortunately, he came to the same conclusion.”
Bates is one of the big winners of Penn State’s 2019 draft class, which includes Miles Sanders of the Eagles, Connor McGovern of Dallas and Super Bowl champion Nick Scott of the Los Angeles Rams. Still, Bates was not drafted, instead he signed with Philadelphia, where he expected to have a good opportunity.
Trade soon ended this and Bates regrouped in Buffalo. He played in a reserve role for his first 2.5 years but earned a starting spot at guard midway through last season. In the final three regular season games of the season, Buffalo did not allow a sack.
As an unrestricted free agent, Bates had conversations with New England and Chicago, which extended the offer sheet Bates had originally signed. And that Buffalo matched.
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“We kind of thought about it, worked on it,” Beane said. “We were tight on the cap, but we decided to bring Ryan back. It’s really important for us to be strong up front. Ryan is a versatile player. He can actually play all five.
“But the most important thing is that he was a central guard when he was replaced, and we thought that when he had the chance this year he did a hell of a job starting the last four. regular seasons and then the two post-season games seem too big for him.”
Bates called the contract “life-changing money,” especially for someone from a blue-collar family in suburban Philadelphia. During the pandemic, Bates converted his parents’ garage into a gym.
Bates said he would keep that approach even with the new contract.
“I came in as an undrafted free agent,” he said. “In my mindset, even though I might be getting more money, I’m still grinding. In the NFL, you don’t get drafted until you prove otherwise. And I think I’ll have the opportunity to prove otherwise. But I’m not going to change my mentality about how I pack every day and how I compete on the pitch.”
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AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, views and insights on the SI.com Network. Editor Mark Wogenrich covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching teams, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And remember to subscribe (button on the home page) for more quality content on the SI.com network.