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Is 'the cliff' coming for Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green?

Are A.J. Green's days of being an elite wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals over?

A.J. Green's career is at a crossroads. After posting six 1,000 yard seasons and making it to seven straight Pro Bowls to start his career, the star receiver is set to play the 2020 season on the franchise tag.

The Bengals had until 4 p.m. on Wednesday to sign him to a long-term extension, but were unable to agree to a deal.

Green is one of 12 NFL players that will play on the tag this season. That’s the most tagged players since 1993 and while some are choosing to bet on themselves during this pandemic, it never felt like the Bengals gave the star wide receiver much of a choice.

Green has missed 29 games since 2016 due to ankle, toe, and hamstring injuries. He suffered an ankle injury on the first day of training camp last season that forced him to miss all of 2019. Durability has been the only knock on arguably the greatest Bengals wide receiver of all-time. What does he have left in the tank after multiple injuries and more than a year away from the game?

The former Georgia Bulldog has stirred the Bengals offensive drink for the better part of a decade and oftentimes made Andy Dalton look much better than he was.

We saw how much the Bengals missed Green last season. They averaged just 17.4 points per game, which was the third-worst in the NFL.

Green's 6-4 frame and insane catch radius make life so much easier for his quarterback. He’s four scores away from surpassing Chad Johnson (66) for most receiving touchdowns in team history.

The problem with Green is not only his injury history, but also where he’s been hurt. All of his injuries have been to his lower body.

As his 32nd birthday approaches (July 31), it's hard for anyone to know what kind of athletic ability he has left in the tank.

Health is obviously the most important factor. There was no reason for Green to try to play through the pain last season. He was right to continue his rehab, instead of rushing back to a team that finished with just two wins. The world will never know for sure, but Green might've returned to the field if the Bengals were in the thick of the wild card race.

Health aside, the prevailing thought is that skill players generally fall off the cliff after their 30th birthday. While that might not be true for everyone, things don't look great for Green.

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The Bengals were smart not to give him a long-term contract. Fantasy Pros dove into receiver decline last summer and found that once a receiver turns 32, his days of elite production are likely over. Only two of a possible 91 players have finished in the top-five in fantasy scoring after turning 32-years-old.

That doesn’t mean Green is going to develop Nelson Agholor-like hands and forget how to run routes, but he can't be trusted to be an elite wide receiver anymore, even if he manages to stay healthy.

Players that are 32-years-old perform at a top-12 level 16 percent of the time, which is the fourth-highest between 21 and 37 years old.

That may appear promising, but the cliff is real. Only three out of 60 (five percent) wide receivers who were 33 or older had a WR1 fantasy season. Those three seasons came from Larry Fitzgerald (2017) and Terrell Owens (2007, 2008).

Green may be just as talented as the Hall-of-Fame duo, but both Owens and Fitzgerald have stayed relatively healthy during their career. Fitzgerald has missed just six regular-season games in his career, and Owens played in 219-of-237 regular season contests.

Fans won't want to believe it, but the Bengals brass made a wise decision. They gave Green one last shot to prove he can stay healthy, without committing to him long-term.

There is a chance Green could be the Reggie Wayne to Joe Burrow’s Andrew Luck.

Luck had an immediate rapport with Wayne during the Colts' 11-5 run in his rookie season. Wayne had a career year at 34-years-old. He finished with 106 receptions for 1,355 yards and five touchdowns.

Green's body has failed him over the past four years. He was on pace to set multiple franchise records. Instead, he’s stuck playing on a one-year deal and hoping to show the Bengals and the rest of the NFL that he’s still an elite player.

‘The cliff’ is on the horizon. Father Time is undefeated. It’s up to Green to figure out how he can evolve and remain productive despite being an older, less athletic player than he was in his prime.