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Contract situation settled for this season, Bengals’ Green ‘ready to go’

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) pulls in a pass under pressure from Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith (22) during the second half of an NFL football game in Baltimore, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) pulls in a pass under pressure from Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith (22) during the second half of an NFL football game in Baltimore, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Credit: Patrick Semansky

Credit: Patrick Semansky

When A.J. Green spoke last season of the possibility of playing on a franchise tag in 2020, he always acknowledged he would do it but made clear he didn’t like that the Cincinnati Bengals would have the ability to lock him down without a long-term deal.

The tag came in March and after the deadline to extend his contract passed Wednesday, Green ended up signing his franchise tender Friday – and not surprisingly his tone had changed.

Green said in a Zoom news conference Friday he was not reluctant to sign the tag, although he could have waited longer to do so or hold out and not play. He plans to participate in training camp, and he will make $17.9 million by playing this season on a franchise tag.

“For us, having the open communication (changed things),” Green said when asked why his tone changed. “I, my agent, Katie (Blackburn), the Bengals, the whole organization, we had great, open communication over the last couple of weeks and we all came to terms that, hey, there are a lot of things going on in this world. Just let me go out there and play football and then we’ll re-visit this next year.”

Green said he understood why the Bengals were hesitant to give him a long-term deal because of injuries that sidelined him for the entire 2019 season and for seven games in 2018. He turns 32 on July 31 as preparations will be underway for his 10th season.

Cincinnati had been in discussions about Green’s contract the last two years, but Green said the organization’s unwillingness to give him a new deal during that time does not create apprehension about signing with the team in 2021.

“You don’t think like the last two years,” Green said. “I’ve been hurt. It was always tough to get a deal done, especially (because) I know my value and also, they still need to see me play. I understand that’s a tough place to be when you’re running a business. But like I said, we had great communication. That’s one thing about this whole process. We understand each other. The points that we made, my agent (Ben Dogra) and I, the points Katie (Blackburn) had made, for us the feeling is mutual. I always wanted to envision myself retiring at one team. That’s still on the table. If I stay healthy, we’ll see what happens.”

The Bengals’ fourth overall pick in 2011 said he wants to finish his career in Cincinnati out of loyalty to the people who gave him a chance from the get-go. Green said “it’s kind of crazy” the team was still willing to franchise-tag him going into Year 10 and coming off two injuries.

Green still has something to prove, which he hasn’t had to do in a very long time. He still believes his body of work speaks for itself but people need to see he’s still “the same A.J. Green” that earned Pro Bowl selections each of his first seven years in the league.

The former Georgia standout has become one of the most productive receivers in Bengals’ history. He currently stands second in career receptions (602) and receiving yards (8907), is tied for second in receiving touchdowns (63), and ranks first in 100-yard receiving games (33).

Green was well on his way to a Hall of Fame call before a toe injury derailed his 2018 campaign and an ankle injury sidelined him the first day of training camp last summer. He believes he can still earn the gold jacket if he stays healthy.

“I still got a ways to go, man,” Green said. “These last two years, if I was healthy -- especially two years ago the way I started -- I think I would have been up there, but I still got work to do. I’m just happy to get back healthy and play football. That’s all I care about.”

Last year’s ankle injury came as Green was nearing the end of what would have been his first full practice under Zac Taylor. The team was cautious last offseason in his return from the toe injury he had to surgically repair in December 2018 after coming back from a three-game absence and re-injuring it.

Green said there are no mental hurdles to clear in getting back on the field for training camp.

“For me, I’m a level guy, so everything happens for a reason,” he said. “That’s how I look at it. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. Me going to practice coming up, I’m not going to be thinking about anything. If I get hurt, then it’s meant to happen. I’m not going to have that going on in the back of my mind or try to not go as hard as I need to be just to not get hurt. For me it’s just going out there to play football. Whatever God has planned for me, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Green has been working out in Atlanta this offseason and cutting and running routes since February. He said his body feels like it did in the middle of his prime, and he believes he has “at least four great years left” because his game is suited to still be effective even as he ages because his skills are not based on speed.

There was never any thought of skipping training camp and waiting until after the preseason to sign his tender, Green said, even though that would have been one way to protect himself from injury longer. For one, that’s not who Green is and for another, he wants to start building a connection with new quarterback Joe Burrow as soon as possible.

“That’s never an option for me because I always look at practice as my games,” Green said. “That’s the way I practice each and every week. I feel like if I were to hold out, some guys could, but me mentally I want to get out there, get with Joe, get with Zac, get in that offense and get in the swing of things so when Week 1 comes, I’ll be ready to go.”