Lions sign UFL kicking breakout Jake Bates to 2-year contract

Bates made three kicks of 60-plus yards this year for the Michigan Panthers

Dan Campbell's lack of confidence in his kicker arguably cost the Detroit Lions a chance to win last season's NFC championship game. The team is looking to one of this year's sensations from the UFL to potentially address that issue.

The Lions signed Michigan Panthers kicker Jake Bates to a two-year contract. Bates' agent informed ESPN's Adam Schefter of the signing after his client also visited the Washington Commanders and Green Bay Packers. News of Bates going to Detroit was first reported by Aaron Wilson of Houston's KPRC-TV.

Bates, 24, hit 64- and 62-yard field goals during the season for the Panthers. The Arizona Cardinals' Matt Prater was the only NFL kicker to hit a 62-yarder last season, doing so in a Week 3 win over the Dallas Cowboys. (Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker holds the NFL record with a 66-yard field goal made against the Lions in 2021.)

Bates previously signed free-agent deals with the Houston Texans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year, but was released by both teams.

In the NFC championship versus the San Francisco 49ers, Campbell twice opted to go for it on fourth down in the second half, rather than let kicker Michael Badgely attempt 46- and 48-yard field goals. Detroit didn't convert on either attempt and passing on a possible six points might have been the difference in a 34–31 defeat.

The Lions already had two kickers on the roster with Badgely and rookie free agent James Turner. Badgely was 4-for-4 on field goals and 13-of-15 on extra points, but his longest make was from 41 yards. He joined Detroit when Riley Patterson was released after 13 games.

Despite Bates' big leg, he wasn't the most accurate kicker, converting 77% (17-for-22) of his field goals for the Panthers. However, all five of his misses were from 50 yards or more. It's possible that Detroit could keep him for kickoffs and field goal attempts over 50 yards. But roster spots are at a premium and the Lions might not prefer to use two of them on placekickers.

Bates was a kickoff specialist in college, playing at Arkansas, Texas State and Central Arkansas (where he also played soccer). His 60-plus yard field goals early in the UFL season were the first kicks he made in a game since high school.