A.J. Green did not receive a long-term contract before Wednesday's 4 p.m. deadline, meaning that he will play the 2020 season under the franchise tag. While Green had publicly stated that he did not want to play the upcoming season under the tag, if he doubles back on that and decides to play in 2020, it will pay him about $18 million, making him the fourth highest-paid receiver in the NFL based on annual salary. That's not bad for a 32-year-old receiver who missed the entire 2019 season due to injury. However, Green has more leverage than it appears on paper. The former Pro Bowl receiver has several options as it relates to how he will approach the 2020 season.
Since he has not signed his franchise tag, Green could elect to sit out training camp, which is slated to start later this month. Green, if he wants to get credit for a season (which would allow him to become a free agent in 2021), would have to sign his tag by Week 10. But, given his desire to receive his full $18 million salary for the season, it doesn't appear that that is a viable option. Green specifically mentioned how much he would make under the tag when asked last season if he would sit out the 2020 season if he did not receive a longterm contract.
"It's $18 million," Green said, via Paul Dehner of The Athletic. "I'm not sitting out a year. My wife would kill me for that."
While Green's plans for training camp are currently unknown, the desire to get on the same page with rookie quarterback Joe Burrow sooner rather than later may be enough to convince Green to sign his tag later this month. Borrow, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, reportedly made it clear prior to the draft that he wanted the Bengals to figure out a way to keep Green on the roster for the upcoming season. Burrow obviously wants to have the opportunity to work with Green, a Pro Bowler during each of his first seven seasons with Cincinnati.
Along with Green, Burrow will have the luxury of throwing to fellow rookie Tee Higgins, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound target who caught 25 touchdowns during his final two seasons at Clemson. The Bengals' receiving corps also includes Tyler Boyd, a fifth-year veteran who has eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards each of the past two seasons. The Bengals are hoping that John Ross, the ninth overall pick in the 2017 pick, can return to form after having his promising 2019 season end with an injury midway through the season.
Cincinnati's depth at the position may be enough to motivate Green to come to camp on time. While he is still the team's best receiver (when healthy), Green will likely want to increase his chances of early success with Burrow by spending as much time with him as possible before the start of the season. Better chemistry with Burrow should relate to more success on the field, which may lead to Green receiving his coveted new contract when his hits the open market next spring.
Beyond his contract, Green, who recently said that he healthy and that his ankle issues are fully behind him, is also motivated to prove that he is still one of the game's best receivers.
"Not playing the last year and a half, it's really zoomed me into being more focused, not taking things for granted," Green told the team's official website back in May. "The first seven years it was like, 'Oh, this is easy. No speed bumps. Making the Pro Bowl every year.' Then it's been injury after injury.
"It's a process of trying to be great. You play this game long enough, you're going to have these bumps in the road and you have to keep fighting. That's where I am. Still fighting. I still love the game. I'm just ready to get back and play."