Cincinnati Bengals: What’s next for A.J. Green?

Veteran wide receiver is wrapping up 10th season with franchise

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

A.J. Green says he isn’t thinking about whether Sunday will be his last game with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The 10th year wide receiver played on an $18 million franchise tag this season, hoping to prove worthy of a long-term contract to finish his career with the team that drafted him fourth overall in 2011.

Despite hamstring issues in training camp, Green stayed healthy through the first 15 games, and assuming he’s on the field Sunday in the finale against Baltimore (10-5), he will complete his first full season since 2017. However, it remains to be seen whether he and the organization are on the same page regarding his future and what that might mean for 2021.

“Anything is possible,” Green said when asked Thursday if Sunday will be his last game with Cincinnati. “Just another opportunity for me. I don’t really think about my last game. I’m a point in my career where I’ve played for a long time. So, just go out there and put my best foot forward. And whatever happens after the season is already in God’s plans, so I’m not really worried about what’s going to happen.”

Green missed seven games in 2018 because of a toe injury and was sidelined all of last season because of an ankle injury suffered the first day of training camp. Because of that, the team wasn’t interested in signing him to a long-term deal like he wanted and instead he ended up with a franchise tag to lock him in for somewhat of a trial season to see how productive the 32-year-old still could be.

As it’s turned out, Green’s role became diminished in Zac Taylor’s offense this year, with rookie Tee Higgins stepping up alongside Tyler Boyd as the team’s go-to targets. Green has 47 catches on 98 targets for a career-low 523 yards – even recording lower numbers than his nine-game 2018 season when he had 694 yards. The only other year he’s fallen short of 1,000 yards was in 2016 when he had 964 yards in 10 games.

“Definitely not the numbers that I’m accustomed to,” Green said. “For me, I know we left some things out there. But I am proud of how I kept fighting through the season. No matter what the situation, what’s going on, I continued to come in every day and work my butt off each and every day at practice. Like I said, everything’s not going to be perfect. You’re not going to have the perfect season. Things haven’t gone the way I planned it coming in. But there’s a lot of other things going (on) in the world that could be worse. So I’m just happy I can be able to go out here and play the game that I love and get paid for it.”

Green said he probably took for granted all the Pro Bowl honors and stats he recorded his first seven years, but he’s learned this season that everything won’t always come so easily. He believes he’s become a better football player and better man by dealing with adversity the past few years and still going about his business like he always would.

This season was challenging for everyone because of COVID-19 and no preseason but Green had to work back into the swing of things quickly after not having played a game since December 2018. He also had to adjust to a new offense and a rookie quarterback, then two new passers.

It started off slowly for Green, and in Week 5, a TV camera caught him expressing his frustration on the sideline before mysteriously leaving the game with a reported hamstring flare-up. The next game was his best of the season, as he caught eight passes for 96 yards in a loss at Indianapolis. His contributions have fluctuated since then with three different quarterbacks throwing him passes, a big change from consistency he developed with Andy Dalton as the two came into the league together.

“It’s a little different,” Green said, switching to Joe Burrow, then Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley. “I had Andy my whole career. So it’s a little tough. But it’s the game. In this NFL, it’s always the next man up. But I’m very grateful for having Andy all those years. Ryan played great. BA is playing unbelievable. He played an unbelievable game last week. I think we’re in good hands.”

Despite his ups and downs this season, Green has a chance Sunday to put his name atop the record books before possibly ending his Cincinnati tenure. He needs one more touchdown to tie Chad Johnson for the franchise receiving touchdown record at 66 or two more to grab sole possession of it.

Green, who got touchdown No. 65 in Week 14 against Dallas, has played some of his best games against Baltimore. He had a three-touchdown performance against the Ravens in 2018 and 227 yards and two touchdowns in 2015. Green said he won’t lose any sleep over it if the record doesn’t come to him, but it would be “good” to have. He still won’t think about if Sunday is his last chance to get it.

“Like I said, I’m a very even keel guy,” Green said. “I had great times here. If this is my last game, I had an unbelievable 10 years here. Wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I appreciate the Brown family for giving me this opportunity, but all that ‘this is the last game,’ I really don’t look into all that. It’s just another chapter in my book to where I can go out there and continue to play football, whether it’s here or somewhere else. I really don’t get caught up in this is my last game. I had a great time here, if this is my last time. I just look at it as another opportunity, if it’s here or somewhere else, just to continue to live my dream and play football.”


Ravens at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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