A.J. Green is entering his 10th season in the NFL. He's the only wide receiver in NFL history that has gone to the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven seasons.
Green, 31, has always been a professional. He's never been a distraction. That theme continues during the most important offseason of his career.
The Bengals placed the franchise tag on Green, which will pay him nearly $18 million in 2020. It's a lot of money, but it isn't the long-term extension he's looking for.
Some star players would holdout in this situation. Others would demand a trade.
He's talked with No. 1 pick Joe Burrow multiple times since the draft. The duo plans on working out together this offseason.
"A.J. is a great representative of what we’re trying to build here in terms of leaders taking these young guys under their wings to an extent — reaching out to them, making them a part of this organization, making them feel comfortable," head coach Zac Taylor said on Friday. "A.J. has been here a long time. Everyone thinks very highly of him. So for him to take the lead there is great to hear.
"That's why it's important to have strong leadership on the team. And A.J. is an outstanding leader for us. We certainly think that Joe's got a bright future as well. We just know that we're built right now with the right men that are willing to do whatever it takes to get it done."
No one knows when players will be allowed back in team facilities. Green, Burrow and other Bengals wide receivers hope to get together when it's safe.
Green's recent injury history could get in the way of a long-term extension. He's missed 29 games in the past four years and didn't play in a game last season.
He wants to stay in Cincinnati beyond the 2020 season. He also knows how important it is to build a relationship with Burrow.
"Whatever happens is going to happen," Green told Bengals.com. When the time comes, I'll be in the best shape to play my best ball this year no matter what happens. The best shape of my life."
The Bengals have until July 15 to sign Green to an extension.
The Virtual World
The Bengals' virtual offseason continues on Monday. The coaching staff will be able to meet with both the veterans and the rookies on the same day for the first time.
“We’re going to maximize all this time that they give us," Taylor said. "Monday we get a chance to get the whole group together and start to introduce these rookies. And again, the challenge that we’re trying to be creative in solving is if our rookies aren’t able to see our veterans until May 18 or June 1 or training camp, we gotta find a way to get our veteran leaders in front our rookies so the first time they see them isn’t months down the road. So that’s something we’ve really challenged our staff with and they’ve been creative with their responses.”
The Bengals have held virtual meetings with veteran players for the past two weeks. They also had a three day orientation with rookies from May 1-3. The coaching staff was able to talk with rookies one-on-one or in groups for up to five hours per day.
It may be unique, but Taylor believes the meetings have been productive.
“We got a bunch of really tech-savvy coaches that have been able to incorporate a lot of fun tools to help these guys learn. I think the feedback from the players has been outstanding," Taylor said. "It’s great for me because instead of physically having to walk into each meeting and open a door and kind of make a scene and walk in there. I’m able to just jump in and watch every meeting as they happen. I kind of just disappear and then I reappear in somebody else’s meeting.
"I think it's been really efficient. It is unfortunate you don't get the physical reps on the field. That is something every team would like to have, but no other teams have it so we're just going to make the most of this virtual opportunity."
A Little Fun
Burrow capped off arguably the best season in college football history with a win over Clemson in the National Championship Game.
As great as it was for the eventual No. 1 pick, it was just as tough on Bengals' second-round pick.
Higgins had 52 receiving yards and a 36-yard rushing touchdown, but it wasn't enough to get the win.
Assistant coaches on the Bengals' staff have joked with Higgins about losing to his new quarterback in the National Championship Game.
“We set a time to start them and then we open up the Zoom about 10 minutes before so that the players can try to get a locker room feel to it a little bit and start to build that camaraderie," Taylor said. "Your first day of all the rookies, they don’t know each other and so you flip on that Zoom and it’s just a bunch of guys silent — all-muted for the 10 minutes leading up to the team meeting. Some of our coaches with some bigger personalities may have jumped in there and tried to stir the pot a little bit and get those guys riled up and see kinda what they’re made of. That was pretty entertaining to watch.”
Higgins went 29-1 in his last two seasons at Clemson, which included winning a National Championship win over Alabama on January 7, 2019. Maybe he should wear his championship ring to Monday's meeting.
Most people are having bad hair days due to COVID-19. Salons have been closed, which has led to most people letting their hair grow or cutting it themselves.
Taylor hasn't had a haircut during quarantine. He's looking forward to changing that when barbershops and salons open (in Ohio) on May 15.
"It’s not good. Nobody," Taylor said when asked who was cutting his hair during quarantine. "I’ve usually been like a $10 haircut guy. Since I’ve been here, I do hit up Salzano’s down there in downtown. He’s been awesome. So I do very much look forward to getting back there."
Taylor's wife Sarah cut his hair in college and it didn't go well.
"We have some dark haircut days going back to college, her and I. So I try not to involve her as much as I can," Taylor said with a laugh. "I’ll let her tell that story if you ever get her one-on-one. It was a late night. I felt like I needed a buzz cut. It just didn’t go well. How you screw up a buzz cut, I’ll never know."