A.J. Green has easily been the Bengals’ best offensive player since the team drafted him with the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft; compiling 4,874 receiving yards and 35 receiving touchdowns in just four career seasons, Green has established himself as one of the league’s top wide receivers. In fact, Green was viewed as the best receiver outside of Calvin Johnson just a year ago.
Nov 30, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) works out prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Coming off an injury-plauged 2014 season, Green is now considered a top 10 to a top 15 receiver by NFL fans, or the 37th best player in the league, rather than as one of the the league’s top two receivers–and its ninth best player–like he was just a year ago.
Why is this important? The answer is simple; Green’s value is the lowest it has been in his career, and odds are, his value will have increased by the end of the 2015 season. The Bengals need to sign A.J. now; his value can really only increase at this point.
This week, several sites have picked up a story regarding A.J. Green’s contract status, mentioning that he plans on handling his contract situation with patience and will likely play out the remaining year of his contract. These stories have applauded Green’s positive attitude and insinuated that he is handling his situation better than Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas, the two wide receivers currently trying to negotiate long-term deals with their respective teams in an effort to avoid signing a potential franchise tenders.
Green’s willingness to wait, however, could end up costing the Bengals. It’s completely obvious how talented Green really is; as long as he does not undergo a serious injury in the upcoming season, it’s a pretty safe bet to assume he will have higher value after next season. After all, he’s entering his prime and is now surrounded by even more weapons, included a revamped running game and pass catchers who should finally be healthy and ready to make an impact come Week 1.
With other receivers such as Julio Jones, T.Y. Hilton and Alshon Jeffery set to hit the market alongside Green, as well as the aforementioned Bryant and Thomas–bar a long term contract–this collection of free agent wide receivers could be the strongest and deepest group that the NFL has ever seen.
And with all that talent set to hit the market, the only contract indicating market value is Calvin Johnson’s seven year deal worth up to $132 million, a deal viewed as an outlier by most agents and general managers. This essentially means that there is no market price set for top flight wide receivers; the first receiver to sign a contract will set the market price. In signing Green now, the Bengals could save money, where they would likely have to spend more money to lock up A.J. long-term in waiting for another receiver to sign first.
There’s only one obstacle to the Bengals signing A.J. Green now: the team’s extensive list of upcoming free agents. The team’s two starting offensive tackles, Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith, could both hit the market if they are not re-signed before the end of the season. Along with these linemen are Green’s two fellow starting wideouts, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. However, it’s on the defensive side of the ball that Cincinnati has the potential to lose more players.
Cincinnati’s defense, especially its secondary, is full of potential upcoming free agents. In signing Green to a long-term contract, the team could risk losing its depth on the defensive side of the ball.
From the standout safety duo of Reggie Nelson and George Iloka, to aging veteran corners in Leon Hall and Adam Jones, to veteran defensive linemen in Wallace Gilberry and Pat Sims to young up-and-comers in Emmanuel Lamur, Vincent Rey, Brandon Thompson and Devon Still, the Bengals’ defense runs a huge risk of losing its valued continuity. So although it could make the most financial sense to sign Green now, the team may want to proceed with caution.
Despite accounting well for its 2014 losses, the team will likely have difficulty repeating the feat come next offseason because of the sheer number of players set to hit free agency; Cincinnati would only be wise to sign A.J. Green now if it can lock him down for a fair price.