The Cincinnati Bengals are entering the most important season in franchise history. Not only is Cincinnati attempting to build upon four straight postseason appearances, but it’s searching for its first win in the NFL Playoffs since 1988.
The quiet, but imposing reality: the Bengals are also entering what could be their last season with A.J. Green.
Green, 26, will become a free agent in 2016. He’s spent the past four years as the Bengals’ No. 1 wide receiver and, not-so-arguably, the franchise player.
No matter what it costs, the Bengals need to sign Green for the long-term—just don’t ask him to talk to you about it.
According to Coley Harvey of ESPN, Green focused on his contract; he’s focused on football.
"“You know I watch ESPN all the time, and that’s all they talk about,” Green said Thursday during his camp for area children. “But like I say, I’m just here to play football. My body of work will speak for itself.”“I don’t get into all the ‘I need a contract’ stuff,” he said. “I’m not here for money. I’m not broke. So I’m fine. I can wait until the end of the year to get a contract, but I know that time is coming.”"
That’s what makes him so special.
Take away the freakish athleticism, unparalleled catch radius and uncanny ability to catch passes that shouldn’t be caught. Strip Green of his All-Pro selections, Pro Bowl appearances and four 1,000-yard seasons in four tries.
What’s left is a competitor whose commitment to the game is both infectious and awe-inspiring.
Green is set to make $10,176,000 in 2015. This comes after he made a grand total of $19,688,098 during his first four seasons with the Bengals from 2011 to 2014.
So no, Green isn’t broke—he’s just underpaid.
The only other wide receiver on pace to make upwards of $10 million is Larry Fitzgerald at $11 million flat.
Chances are, Green will join that group of players making upwards of $11 million per season. For perspective, Jeremy Maclin will make $9.5 million in 2016.
With all due respect to Maclin, an excellent player, $9.5 million for him likely means somewhere along the lines of $14 or $15 million for Green.
Green may not be Megatron, but Johnson will be 30 once the 2016 season begins. Green won’t turn 27 until July of 2016, which will be after he signs his new deal.
No matter which team pays him, Green will be a very wealthy man.
For the Bengals, re-signing Green is about more than keeping one of the league’s premier performers in Cincinnati. It’s about holding onto a player who helps set the tone in the locker room.
Green’s competitiveness is revered and his selflessness is part of what makes the Bengals a consistent postseason contender.
The difference between Green and the two big bruisers: Cincinnati already drafted Smith and Whitworth’s replacements in Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi.
Marvin Jones is good, but he’s done nothing (yet) to suggest he’s A.J. Green’s heir apparent. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Defensively, cornerback Leon Hall and safety Reggie Nelson will also enter free agency. Hall is 30 years old and has battled injuries in recent seasons, which has prompted Cincinnati to use two first-round picks on cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick.
At wide receiver, nothing has been done to prepare for Green’s potential departure.
Losing Nelson would be a similarly large blow, but Green is the franchise player. Before anything else is done, the Bengals need to lock up the one player who has been dependable throughout this wild four-year run.
If Cincinnati fails to re-sign Green, it would set the organization back by a significant measure.
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