Exploring a possible extension for A.J. Green and the Bengals

Here's what a possible contract extension could look like for A.J. Green and the Bengals
Author:
Updated:
Original:

The Bengals capped off an aggressive offseason by adding seven players in the draft. 

They committed nearly $150 million to eight free agents and completely remade their defense. They also added key pieces on offense, including rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. 

Now the Bengals' focus shifts towards their own players. They hope to sign a few of their veterans to contract extensions before the season begins. A.J. Green could be priority number one. 

The Bengals placed the franchise tag on the seven-time Pro Bowler this offseason. The two sides have until July 15 to agree to a long-term contract. If they can't reach a deal, Green will earn $17.85 million this season and be able to test free agency in 2021. 

"We really like A.J. Green and look forward to coaching him this year. We want him here for a long time," head coach Zac Taylor said last month. "He’s fully healthy and he’s working hard. He’s been in Atlanta."

Health has been an issue for Green in recent seasons. He's missed 29 of a possible 64 games over the past four years and didn't play a snap last season after suffering an ankle injury in training camp. 

He was expected to return to action, but he had multiple setbacks and never played in a game. He's dealt with multiple foot, ankle and toe injuries over the past few seasons. Despite the injuries, the Bengals feel like Green can still be a difference maker.

"A.J. is like history long of the league good," wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell told Bengals.com. "Anytime you put him on the field, everybody gets better. There aren't a lot of guys like that in this league."

Green has played in a total of nine games over the past two seasons. His injury history could prevent the Bengals from being able to sign him long-term. 

A contract extension is complicated, but it could happen. What is Green looking for? That's the question that no one, but him and his agent can answer. 

He will turn 32 in July. Will the Bengals really commit $18-20 million per season for a player that has dealt with major injuries in three of the past four seasons? 

Julio Jones is the highest paid wide receiver in the NFL at $22 million per year. Amari Cooper is second at $20 million per season. 

Green is probably asking for a three or four-year contract. He's still a great player when healthy and no one knows his injuries better than the Bengals. They want to keep him around long-term. If they didn't, they would've fielded trade offers for the star wide receiver over the past few months. Instead, they've had contract negotiations with Green's agent and maintain that they want to keep him beyond the 2020 season.

Having your starting quarterback on a rookie deal gives the Bengals the flexibility to pay Green. 

Burrow, 23, could benefit from having an accomplished and talented player like Green on the roster. He'll make life much easier on the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner. 

The situation is similar to what Reggie Wayne did at the beginning of Andrew Luck's career. 

Wayne, who was 34 at the time, became Luck's security blanket during his rookie season. He finished with 106 receptions, 1,355 yards and five touchdowns. The Colts went to the playoffs just one year after posting a 2-14 record.

Burrow is 23 years old, which is the exact same age Luck was during his rookie campaign. Wayne benefitted from having a youngster like Luck and vice versa.

Green is younger than Wayne was, so it's realistic to expect him to produce at an elite level for two or three more seasons. 

The Bengals aren't going to make Green the highest-paid wide receiver in football, but they could (and probably should) get close. They value his talent, work ethic and believe he's an important a big part of a new era in Cincinnati. 

Green is probably asking for $20 million per year. The Bengals should offer him a three-year, $56 million deal ($18.7 million per season).

They would void the franchise tag as part of the extension. It would make Green the fourth-highest paid wide receiver in the league on a per-year basis. That may sound like an overpay given his injury history, but his $18.7 million salary would be 9.4 percent of the 2020 salary cap.

The Bengals committed 10.46 percent of their salary cap to Green in 2015 when he signed his four-year, $60 million extension. Keeping the 7-time Pro Bowler around for the next three seasons is a priority for Cincinnati. An offer like that would probably get it done.  

Green would get the long-term security he's looking for, instead of playing on the franchise tag and the Bengals would keep their dynamic playmaker around for the next three seasons. 

Green's deal would expire at the end of the 2022 season. That would give them the option of re-signing him, using his money to pay Tee Higgins, who will be eligible for an extension or both. 

If the Bengals want to keep Green around, a deal like this could get it done.