Cincinnati Bengals: How much should A.J. Green’s next contract be worth?

With A.J. Green informing reporters that he won’t play in either of the final two games of the season, his future with the Cincinnati Bengals looks murky. Here, we look at what his next contract might be worth if the two sides come to an agreement. 

The Cincinnati Bengals were enamored with A.J. Green coming out of college. They loved his game and demeanor so much, they made him the 4th overall pick. In doing so, they passed up on the other electric receiver to come out of the 2011 NFL Draft, Julio Jones. Ever since then, Green has shown extreme loyalty to the ownership, fan base, and city. However, recently, the relationship between the two sides has become strained.

From the perspective of Green, he’s been arguably the team’s best player since the second he signed his rookie contract. He’s stuck with the franchise despite their shortcomings in the playoffs and other areas. The former Georgia Bulldog has been a leader on and off the field, avoiding the diva attitude that typically comes with star wide receivers. Most importantly, when healthy, he carries the offense to the next level.

On the other hand, the front office coughed up $15 million this season to watch Green sit on the sideline. He’s dictated the terms of his return from injury and is now threatening to not show up in the off-season if he’s franchise tagged. For a team looking to rebuild, it is risky to tie up a large sum of money in an often injured receiver who is getting older.

Both sides are coming from an understandable perspective, and that’s what has caused such a deep divide between the two in terms of what his next contract should be. As things stand right now, Green is in the final season of a 4 year, $60 million contract that had just under $27 million guaranteed.

Spotrac has calculated Green’s market value based on the contracts of other players at a similar age with production that mirrors his. From their number crunching, they believe Green is worth a 2-year deal just over $18 million. This sort of agreement is probably what the Bengals front office is aiming to ink. However, the cornerstone wide receiver is unlikely to take such a steep pay cut and he has a case for a bigger payday.

All signs have indicated that the Cincinnati Bengals will have a new franchise quarterback soon and with Green on board, whoever the new signal-caller is will have a much smoother transition.

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Beyond that, he probably feels like his years of loyalty and leadership should be repaid. Green could have opted to hold out and demand a trade on multiple occasions like many other star players around the league. Instead, he stayed the course and was a mentor to the younger guys in the locker room. For these reasons, Green is probably eyeing a 4-year deal around $15 million annually, much like his current contract.

Each side will have to compromise if the Georgia native is going to be in stripes next season and beyond. The sticking point for number 18 seems to be that the franchise doesn’t seem committed to him and he doesn’t want to put his future on the line if that’s the case. The front office could quell those concerns by giving him a 3-year contract with a significant signing bonus and a no-trade clause. This would allow him to determine what location he ends up in if the Bengals decide to trade him and signals that the team is committed to him.

In return, Green could agree to less guaranteed money or perhaps allow playing time incentives to be included in the terms. If Green is unwilling to take less guaranteed money, management would be wise to front-load the contract so they could move on down the line, should they need to. This would allow them to minimize the amount of dead cap space from cutting ties. Overall, each side should look to get a 3 year, $36 million contract done.

The Bengals have made the mistake of letting good players walk in free agency. Every fan knows the huge hit the team took when Andrew Whitworth went packing for California. Ownership should be working every angle to keep a likely future Hall of Famer in the Queen City.

If all else fails, the option of tagging and trading the 7-time Pro-Bowler exists. However, this should be a last resort for a variety of reasons.

First, the Bengals would lose a lot of leverage, making a fair trade highly unlikely. The return they would get in a potential trade would likely leave them suffering a net loss.

More importantly, losing Green would mean allowing one of the greatest Bengals of all time to finish his career elsewhere. The contract negotiations are relatively short-term but the ramifications of the outcome would impact the franchise down the line in terms of reputation and standard.

Next: Bengals: 3 predictions for Week 16 at the Dolphins

Green’s loyalty should be matched by the organization. He deserves to break every Cincinnati Bengals receiving record, see another successful season with the team, and receive a deserving send-off from the home fans when he decides to hang his cleats up.

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