Frank Victores/Associated Press
The Cincinnati Bengals were unable to work out a long-term extension with star wide receiver A.J. Green by Wednesday’s deadline to sign franchise-tagged players to a multiyear contract, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, so he’ll play out the 2020 NFL season under the franchise tag.
He was one of 12 players unable to reach a multiyear deal after receiving a franchise tag.
Cincinnati applied the tag to the 31-year-old in March, ensuring he’d be guaranteed at least $17.9 million for the upcoming year.
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported last week some inside the Bengals organization “don’t sound overly optimistic” that a new deal would come to fruition:
Jeremy Fowler @JFowlerESPN
Franchise tag updates on Dak Prescott (Cowboys aren’t worried), Chris Jones (progress?) and A.J. Green (Bengals not overly optimistic) https://t.co/7FHXVmo1S6
One could sensibly argue Green is smart to bide his time and hit the open market in 2021.
Unless he’s willing to sit out a second year, he has few other alternatives to signing the franchise tender. He might have reservations about committing to the Bengals for anything beyond 2020, though.
Cincinnati owned the NFL’s worst record (2-14) in 2019 and appears to be well off the pace necessary to contend in the AFC North again.
The team’s dismal campaign at least meant the arrival of Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, and the Bengals selected Clemson standout Tee Higgins in the second round of the 2020 draft. Add in leading rusher Joe Mixon, and the offense is showing more promise than it has in a while.
Still, nobody will blame Green if he ultimately prefers to play for a ready-made contender in 2021 rather than waiting for the Bengals’ potential to materialize.
More than anything, this was a less-than-ideal time for Green to sign a new contract.
Fowler alluded to the ankle injury the seven-time Pro Bowler suffered almost immediately after training camp officially opened last offseason. The injury continued to linger to the point he didn’t play a single snap.
A toe injury limited Green to eight games in 2018, too. Whatever the Bengals were willing to offer him, it’s safe to assume it would have been more if he had been coming off a year in which his production mirrored his career averages. Between 2011 and 2018, he failed to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards just twice.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a major wild card as well.
Nobody knows for sure how the coronavirus will affect the upcoming season or how the 2021 salary cap will be impacted. It’s safe to assume the NFL’s overall revenue will be lower, and that’s assuming it can have a season with at best limited attendances.
With so much up in the air, 2021 free agents are left in a tough position.
By virtue of the franchise tag, Green maximizes his earning power in the short term while allowing himself to rebuild his value on the field. And once he’s approaching free agency, there should be more clarity as to how much the pandemic has altered the NFL’s financial landscape.
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