After 11 years with the organization, Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green will likely be finding a new landing spot in 2021 as he hits NFL free agency. In what seems to be a relative certainty, Green has played his final snap for the Bengals and exits as the second-best receiver in franchise history.
As A.J. Green looks for a new landing spot, he is coming off a career-worst season in 2020
As we know, 100 targets in a season are nothing to scoff at. In fact, only 36 receivers hit that mark in 2020. Would you believe me if I told you A.J. Green was one of those players? Believe it or not, it is accurate, and it might have been the quietest 104 targets ever if you weren’t paying close attention all season.
From Weeks 1 through 7, Green actually saw 58 targets, including four games with 9 or more targets. The downside is nothing came from them, and that was the story of the season. While he saw over 100 targets for the eighth time in his nine-year career, Green only caught 47 passes (45.2%) for a career-low 523 yards and 2 touchdowns.
A.J. Green will go down as of of the best receivers in Bengals’ history
Now 32, Green has been a technician on the perimeter for the last decade. While the Bengals were never able to find much success during his tenure, it was not the fault of Green. Since entering the NFL in 2011, Green sits among the best of this generation. He is sixth in targets (1,130), seventh in receptions (649), fifth in yards (9,430), and fourth in touchdowns (65).
In Cincinnati Bengals’ history, he is second in all four categories to one player: Chad Johnson. It is worth noting, however, that Green has played in 14 fewer games than Johnson. From yards per reception, yards per game, and touchdown percentage, Green has him beat.
If A.J. Green were to come back to the Bengals in free agency, while unlikely, he would surpass Johnson in all categories except targets, where he trails by 210.
Will A.J. Green hit free agency in 2021?
Have we been discussing this topic for years? The fallout between these two sides and the tension between camps have been palpable whether they will admit it or not. The two big reasons why A.J. Green will be looking for a new landing spot — age and team direction.
For starters, he is no spring chicken (whatever that even means). Green will be 33 in June, and while still able to compete, his best days are behind him. He also hasn’t had a healthy season in which he started all 16 games since 2017. In 2018, he played in just nine games; he missed the entire 2019 season.
The other factor, as mentioned, is team direction. The Bengals are not ready to compete yet. While I don’t believe there is any doubt they are going in the right direction, an aggressive estimate would have them on track to compete in 2023. And that is assuming they make all the right free agency moves and nail every draft pick. That also means Joe Burrow needs to recover fully, which seems to be the case according to recent reports.
A.J. Green will want to play for a contender — this is likely his final NFL contract. He has already amassed generational wealth and positioned himself to continue philanthropic ventures once he chooses to hang up the cleats. This one is for pride and legacy.
With an estimated $43.35 million in cap space, the Bengals could bring him back. However, I would have a hard time believing it is in either party’s best interest to continue this relationship into 2021 and beyond. It’s time to rip off that Bengals-striped Band-Aid and begin moving on.
Which teams are potential landing spots for A.J. Green during the 2021 free agency period?
New England could take a shot at landing Green in free agency
Anytime you hear about a receiver in the 2021 free agency period, expect the New England Patriots to be in the conversation.
Few teams in the NFL lack talent at receiver as much as the Patriots. Julian Edelman is not getting any younger (34) or healthier. N’Keal Harry, New England’s 2019 first-round pick, only caught 33 passes. Jakobi Meyers, a UDFA from NC State, led the team with 59 receptions for 729 yards and no touchdowns.
The Buffalo Bills have taken over the AFC East. Now, it is up to the Patriots to try to get back into the conversation. That’s if they can pass the Miami Dolphins, who are in a better spot as a franchise right now.
The Washington Football Team desperately needs WR help
Outside of WR Terry McLaurin, Washington does not have a second option at receiver. Logan Thomas was a revelation at TE, but he can’t stretch the field. Thomas and RB J.D. McKissic each had 110 targets in 2020. The trio combined for 354 of the 573 targets last year (62%).
Washington is unsure about WR Antonio Gandy-Golden, as he enters his second season after dealing with the injury bug. Whoever they bring in as the quarterback will need reliable pass catchers. Washington has plenty of cap space as well with $43.49 million. Due to ankle-biting their way into the playoffs, they currently have the 19th overall selection. Adding A.J. Green in free agency ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft could give them flexibility with their first-round pick.
Could Kansas City be a favorite landing spot of A.J. Green?
The Kansas City Chiefs are likely moving on from Sammy Watkins as he hits free agency, and the jury is still hung on whether Mecole Hardman can be a consistent passing option.
Imagine the Chiefs going out and adding someone like A.J. Green to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. It checks all the boxes. It addresses the needs of the team, it allows them to be flexible with their first-round pick, and it puts Green on a contender. I use the term “contender” loosely as this team was just in back-to-back Super Bowls, after all.
The Chiefs could lure A.J. Green in free agency with a one-year prove-it deal and allow him to show he still has more left in the tank. This is a win-win for both teams and a lose-lose for the rest of the NFL.
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