A.J. Green is one of the best players in the Bengals’ history. He began his career with seven straight Pro Bowl appearances, which is an NFL record. He helped lead the Bengals to five straight playoff appearances from 2011-2015.
Unfortunately for Green, things have been much different lately. The 31 year old has dealt with hamstring, foot and ankle injuries in recent seasons, which have caused him to miss 29 of the last 64 games.
The Bengals franchise tagged Green, which is a one-year deal that prevents him from testing free agency. The veteran wide receiver is set to make around $18 million in 2020 if he can’t reach a long-term extension with the Bengals.
A new contract is something both sides want, but it could be difficult to agree to terms. Green still views himself as an elite wide receiver, but he hasn’t been on the field to prove it. The injuries have started to pile up. He’ll be 32 years old in July. How can the Bengals pay him like he’s Julio Jones, Michael Thomas or Tyreek Hill when they don’t know if Green will be able to play? He missed all of last season with an ankle injury.
If the Bengals were to sign Green to an extension it would likely be an incentive-based deal. The organization would want to protect itself, in case Green continues to deal with injuries.
Is an established wide receiver like Green willing to do that? He wants guaranteed money in his deal and who could blame him?
Mike Brown and the Bengals would be taking a big risk if they committed big money to Green. And signing a smaller deal with a bunch of incentives wouldn’t make sense for Green, who wants one more long-term contract.
It could be in everyone’s best interest if he plays on the franchise tag and both parties agree to revisit an extension after the 2020 season.
That would allow Green to prove himself and show he can still be a game changer. It would also give him leverage in contract negotiations. If he shows he can help Joe Burrow and be an elite go-to weapon moving forward, then they’d be more willing to sign him to a multi-year deal after the season.
“I saw him up in Cleveland last year doing his workouts with the trainers before the game. He looked like he could help [the team] watching that workout.” Dave Lapham said on the Bengals Booth Podcast. “I know he’s a hell of a lot better now than he was then.
“He is still an elite athlete. I personally think he’s going to light it up this year.”
If Green shows he can still be a great player and stays healthy for the 2020 season, then the Bengals will be more comfortable committing $16-20 million to him for multiple years.
Agreeing to that type of contract before July 15 doesn’t make sense unless it’s incentive-laden, which is something Green is hoping to avoid.
“I don’t know if he’ll sign an extension, but he’ll be with the team,” Lapham said. “A.J. Green signing a long-term contract before July 15 will have no bearing on if they take a receiver in the draft. I think they take a receiver no matter what. If they feel like that receiver is the best player to take on their board, the A.J. Green situation is a separate deal.”
Wide receiver is one of the bigger draft needs for the Bengals. Tyler Boyd and Auden Tate are the only receivers under contract in 2021. Green and John Ross will both be free agents.
Michael Pittman Jr., Bryan Edwards and KJ Hamler are three options that could be on their radar in the third round.
The Bengals are going to draft Burrow with the No. 1 pick. They need to do everything they can to make sure he has enough weapons to throw to in 2020 and beyond.
Green could be one of those guys, but he’ll need to show everyone that he can still play at a high level.