A.J. Green is one the most fascinating targets in 2020 free agency

A.J. Green is easily the highest-profile wide receiver in the 2020 free agency period. However, numerous injuries over the last several years give rise to questions regarding his future.

If you were to make a list of the best wide receivers of the last decade, A.J. Green’s name would have to be on it, and it will be at the top of the list for 2020 NFL free agency. His statistics speak for themselves. The seven-time Pro Bowler has reached at least 1,000 receiving yards in every season in which he played at least 13 games. His success looks even more impressive when you take into account how often he has been held back by the failings of the Cincinnati Bengals as an organization, who haven’t won a playoff game in 29 seasons.

Under normal circumstances, a player of that caliber hitting free agency would be massive news. However, in recent years injuries have derailed Green’s career, and with his contract in Cincinnati ending, questions have arisen regarding his fate during the 2020 free agency period.

Green’s recent injury history puts his status as a free agent in 2020 into question

When discussing Green’s value as a potential free agent signing this offseason, it is impossible to ignore how often he has been injured over the last several years. He missed the entire 2019 season with an ankle injury he suffered on the first day of training camp and missed thirteen games across the prior three seasons with various other injuries. For a player past the age of thirty, that is a serious red flag. As good as he has been in the past, it is not unreasonable to wonder how effective he can be at this point in his career.

To be fair to Green, his recent injury history may not be not quite as bad as it at first appears. After all, the Bengals were the NFL’s worst team last season. They had no chance of accomplishing anything significant, and winning games arguably went against their best interest, so there was little point to rushing Green back onto the field and risking further injury. Still, it is an undeniable fact that he has struggled to stay off the sidelines in recent years.

How well has Green played over the last several years?

Green’s injuries make it difficult to analyze exactly how successful he has been in recent years. His statistics have dipped significantly simply because he hasn’t been playing as often. However, we can still quantify how successful he was over the last four years using PFN’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM), which measures how much a player accomplished relative to the opportunities they were given.

Unfortunately, the numbers don’t reflect well on Green. From 2016 to 2018, he received overall grades of 32.28, 28.01, and 28.98. Those grades ranked 42nd, 73rd, and 81st among qualifying wide receivers during those seasons, far lower than you might expect for a player of Green’s renown. For the sake of clarity, it is crucial to note that those low rankings don’t imply that Green was worse than the players ranked above him. Instead, they suggest that he was relatively inefficient in his play; that most other receivers did more with their opportunities than Green did.

Green’s grades were poor, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a valuable player

Green’s low OSM grades don’t paint a good picture of his play over the last three years. However, the reason his grades were so low says more about his style of play, rather than a specific problem that developed in recent years. This distinction is easier to see when you examine the metrics that are involved in calculating the OSM. The statistic that stands out the most is Green’s low catch percentage.

In 2016, he caught 66% of the passes thrown his way. That was the highest percentage of his career, but it was still significantly lower than the best-performing players that season, who caught more than 75% of their targets. In 2017 and 2018, he performed even worse, at 52.4% and 59.7%. These numbers are in line with what Green has produced for most of his career.

In short, the reason Green graded so poorly is that he isn’t a very efficient receiver. Although he has gained an impressive amount of yards during his time in the NFL, it took a large number of targets to reach those numbers.

He falls into a similar category as receivers like DeAndre Hopkins and Alshon Jeffery. They aren’t as reliable on a play-to-play basis as someone like Michael Thomas, but when they are the focal point of the offense, the results can be spectacular. Any team looking to sign Green in free agency will need to understand this dynamic if they want to get the most out of him.

Why signing Green still makes sense during 2020’s free agency period

Despite his often-inefficient play, and his numerous injuries in recent years, when Green is successful, the results can be spectacular. That potential for greatness makes Green an interesting option for receiver-needy teams looking for wide receivers in free agency in 2020, such as the Green Bay Packers, who reportedly have shown interest.

However, recent reports indicate that the Bengals are intent on keeping Green in Cincinnati, either with a long-term contract or by utilizing their franchise tag. This move would make a lot of sense considering their likely plans for the NFL Draft. Barring a dramatic and unexpected change of direction, the Bengals will be drafting Joe Burrow with the first overall pick.

If that does happen, Green would become a valuable tool for the rookie. A wide receiver capable of fighting for and winning jump balls will often become a crucial safety blanket for a rookie quarterback, and if Green can stay healthy, he is still more than capable of being that player.

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