Fighting father time: Bengals must plan for life after veteran stalwarts

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws as he's pressured by Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (97), left, and Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (96) in the second quarter of an Week 5 NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.Arizona Cardinals At Cincinnati Bengals Oct 6
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws as he's pressured by Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (97), left, and Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (96) in the second quarter of an Week 5 NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.Arizona Cardinals At Cincinnati Bengals Oct 6 /
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Cincinnati Bengals
A.J. Green (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Bengals fighting father time: A.J. Green

A.J. Green never laced his cleats for the 2019 season. A nagging injury and contract negotiations made sure of that. However, he returned under the franchise tag this year, reinvigorated to work with rookie signal-caller Joe Burrow.

Even so, the opening four games of the season have been less than spectacular. With a shortened offseason where he was wrapped in cotton wool, a little bit of rust was to be expected. Despite being 32, Green manages to demand the focus of defensive backfields, which has further lessened his impact.

As things stand, it is unlikely Green could command top-end receiver money unless he increases his output significantly going forward. If he is rigid with his contract terms, which after such a stellar career is understandable, there could be a parting of ways after this year.

So the Bengals have two conundrums. How can they get Green firing again and what does the future hold after this year?

First of all, Green’s time as a true deep threat may be coming to an end. His inability to get clear separation is most likely a combination of age and injury history. That doesn’t mean he isn’t an effective weapon. Green still has excellent hands and is strong in contested catch situations.

Those characteristics are best used in the slot. The problem is, the Bengals have arguably one of the league’s best inside receivers in Tyler Boyd. A combination of the two should allow Burrow to thrive on those chain-moving slants that showcase his ball placement and accuracy.

Moving forward, it’s clear that provision has been made for the scenario in which Green parts company with the team that drafted him. The second-round selection of Tee Higgins and development of Auden Tate will be enough to encourage Bengals brass there is life after 18.

Perhaps the perfect solution would be similar to that of Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. Green is used more sparingly but in high-pressure spots. It would involve him taking a pay cut but allow him to mentor a young, talented group of pass-catchers.

The snag being, does Green see his career arc having reached that point? In truth, at his age, it’s fair for him to believe he can do better than that, monetary and performance-wise. That’s why unless some of the old A.J. magic returns, a parting of ways could be the most likely scenario.

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