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Ryan Bates, a Penn State Success Story

Once an undrafted free agent, Bates signs a 'life-changing' contract with the Buffalo Bills.

Ryan Bates played high school football at Archbishop Wood outside Philadelphia, had a Fathead poster of Brian Westbrook in his room and wished he could have been a power forward for the 76ers. So signing with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent from Penn State sounded like a dream come true.

The dream lasted three months in 2019, until the Eagles traded Bates to Buffalo. Turns out, that was the dream come true.

"In the end, it was the best thing that possibly could have happened to me," Bates told Buffalo Bills beat reporters about the trade. "I wouldn't change a thing that happened. That’s one of the best things that happened in my football career, getting traded. Because I wouldn’t have the contract I have and I wouldn’t be with the team I’m at."

Bates recently signed a four-year contract with the Bills worth a reported $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.

Just as Bates wanted.

"The past two weeks have been a very long two weeks," Bates said. "I told [Bills General Manager Brandon Beane] at the end of the season that I want to be a Bill and I want to stay in Buffalo. Thankfully he came to the same conclusion."

Bates is one of the great success stories of Penn State's 2019 draft class, which includes the Eagles' Miles Sanders, Dallas' Connor McGovern and Super Bowl champ Nick Scott of the Los Angeles Rams. Yet Bates wasn't drafted, instead signing with Philadelphia, where he expected to have a good opportunity.

The trade quickly ended that, and Bates regrouped in Buffalo. He played a reserve role through his first 2.5 years but earned a starting spot at guard midway through last season. During the season's final three regular-season games, Buffalo did not allow a sack.

As an unrestricted free agent, Bates had conversations with New England and Chicago, which extended the offer sheet that Bates initially signed. And which Buffalo matched.

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"We kind of pondered that, worked through 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's a versatile player. He can actually play all five spots.

"But most importantly he's been a center-guard when he's filled in, and we thought when he had his opportunity this year he did a heck of a job starting the last four regular-season and then the two postseason games. It didn't seem too big for him."

Bates called the contract "life-changing money," particularly for someone from a blue-collar, suburban-Philadelphia family. During the pandemic, Bates converted his parents' garage into a gym.

Bates said he will retain 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 paid more money, I’m still grinding. In the NFL, you’re undrafted until you prove otherwise. And I think I’ll have the opportunity to prove otherwise. But I’m not going to change my mentality on how I pack every day and how I compete on the field."

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AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button's on the home page) for more great content across the network.