As the Bengals enter a rebuilding phase, extending A.J. Green and Joe Mixon are top priorities, but which should they focus on first?
Coming off the biggest offseason in Cincinnati history, the Bengals are clearly in the midst of a rebuild. Cincinnati focused heavily on improving talent at all levels of the defense with the majority of their spending spree aimed at star defensive players like D.J. Reader, Trae Waynes, and Vonn Bell.
Now with rookie quarterback Joe Burrow at the helm, Zac Taylor and company must decide on the best way to build an offense around him. The first of many decisions come down to who they believe is more important to a rookie quarterback: Joe Mixon or A.J. Green.
A.J. Green: How much more is left in the tank?
A.J. Green has been one of the most prolific wide receivers since being drafted with the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft. Unfortunately, injuries have plagued the back half of his prime. Green missed the entire 2019 season after suffering torn ligaments in his ankle during the first snaps of training camp.
Following the abysmal 2019 season, the Bengals shocked no one by placing the franchise tag on their star wide receiver. As the season drew to a close, Green answered many questions about the franchise tag, but he did not shy away from playing under the tag. With the franchise tag designation, Green will make around $18 million.
The major question for Green is how much does he have left in the tank? After missing 24 games the past two seasons, Green is clearly an injury risk and on the back half of his prime. Green will be 32 years old at the start of the 2020 season. Many wide receivers will begin to see a decline once they hit 30 years old. However, with an entire year and a full offseason to get healthy, Green believes he can be the dominant force Joe Burrow will need.
The Bengals and A.J. Green have until July 15th to come to a long-term extension. Cincinnati must decide if Green still has enough left in the tank to deserve a three or four-year extension. Look for the Bengals to masterclass a front-loaded extension offer for Green in case of continued injury.
Joe Mixon: Are running backs worth the risk?
It is no secret that Mixon has been the backbone of the Bengals’ offense for the past two seasons. In 2018, Mixon finished with the fourth-most rushing yards in the NFL with 1,168 yards. Last season, Mixon struggled out the gates but found his feet over the last eight games, finishing with 1,137 yards and five touchdowns.
Mixon is heading into the final year of his rookie contract. The question is if paying running backs is worth it. In recent history, David Johnson, Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, and Christian McCaffrey have all seen big paydays. Elliott had a productive season following his extension with almost 1,400 yards. McCaffrey’s impact post-extension has yet to be seen.
Gurley and Johnson, on the other hand, saw dramatic dropoffs in production as the hits began to take a toll on their bodies. Injuries have plagued both of their last few seasons which in turn decreased their value. After destroying their team’s cap space, both the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams decided to move on from their star running backs. David Johnson was a part of the infamous Deandre Hopkins trade, while Todd Gurley was released before signing with the Atlanta Falcons.
Running backs take arguably the largest load on an offense, and it begins to show during that second contract. As the Bengals begin to open contract negotiations with Mixon, they must be cautious dishing out large amounts of money to a risky investment. The Bengals will work diligently to find common ground with Mixon and his agent. They won’t touch McCaffrey’s $16 million per year, but will most likely find a deal in the $10-$11 million range.
Balancing the risk and reward
Each player comes with their own pros and cons. The Cincinnati Bengals will have to decide which investment is worth the risk. Do you risk currently injured A.J. Green and bank on his Comeback Player of the Year potential? Or do you hope that Mixon is the anomaly of recently extended running backs?
Building around Joe Burrow is a must and both Green and Mixon offer different values to that rebuild. Overall, the goal will be to extend both of these assets heading into training camp. But Bengals’ fans should begin preparing to see either Mixon or Green in another uniform come 2021.