Which NFL Squad Should Acquire the Bengals Legend?
By: Drew Feinberg (@Drew_Feinberg)
Heading into the 2021 NFL season, every fan from every fan base has the hope and dream of signing one of the star-studded free agent wide receivers; whether it be Kenny Golladay, Allen Robinson or Chris Godwin. However, when that dream turns to reality, and you’re a team like the New Orleans Saints who will go into next season with $-112,697,017 in cap space, you need to find a compromise. The perfect compromise for a WR-needy team could just be AJ Green.
Prior to the 2020 NFL season, Green’s return to the field following a yearlong injury had bounce back written all over it. After years of mediocrity and a turnstile of quarterbacks, Green finally had his guy in newcomer Joe Burrow; or so we thought. Despite playing all 16 games for the first time since 2017, Green was one of the biggest disappointments of the 2020 season. Finishing the year with 104 targets, 47 receptions, 523 yards & 2 TDs, the six-time 1,000-yard receiver looked like a shell of his former self.
It’s now pretty clear that the Green (who will be 33 next season) is not in the long-term plans for the Bengals’ organization. With Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd taking over the wide receiver room in Cincinnati, it’s time to wonder if the seven-time Pro Bowler would benefit from a change of scenery.
Yes, he’s an aging receiver with an injury history, but let’s not forget who Green once was: 1000+ receiving yards in his first five seasons and seven straight Pro Bowl appearances. Put in the right system, I believe Green still has the ability to be successful in this league; even if he isn’t the alpha of years past. Here are five teams that should potentially bring in Green with the hopes of unlocking an ounce of his all-pro form.
For two years now, the Baltimore Ravens have looked to be on the verge of fighting for a Super Bowl appearance. With a dominant defense and such an unstoppable running game led by reigning MVP Lamar Jackson, would you believe this team is just 1-3 in the playoffs with Jackson under center (well…actually shotgun)? Unfortunately, the wide receiver room in Baltimore looks…not great.
Even if you’re a Marquise Brown truther, you would agree that this team needs a true alpha wide receiver. Brown, who himself put up a fairly lackluster season (100 targets, 58 receptions, 769 yards, 8 TDs) minus touchdown production, is not that for the Ravens. Sure, Brown is a very solid 1B, but that team needs a 1A. With notable UFA’s to lock up such as Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue, landing a star-studded wide receiver in free agency may be out of the cards. This is where AJ Green can step in.
Currently the Ravens only “X” receiver under contract going into the 2021 season is Miles Boykin. Boykin, who had a mini-hype train surrounding him heading into this season, was hit by said-train. While I’m merely joking (kind of), the Ravens went as far as to add the ghost of Dez Bryant to star in the “X” role.
According to spotrac.com, the Ravens will enter the offseason with $19,470,758 in cap space. Depending on whether or not they decide to bring back Judon, Ngakoue or both, the Ravens could potentially pick up Green on a fairly cheap contract. Green would provide an added spark to a passing game that is one-dimensional, and become a much needed possession receiver for Lamar Jackson to turn to.
New England Patriots
Bill Belichick stocking his receiving core with unheard of, replacement-level talent: a tale as old as time. With Tom Brady under center, this seemed to work just fine…but those days are long gone. Now, the Patriots have no quarterback and a receiving room consisting of Julian Edelman, Jakobi Meyers, and N’Keal Harry (yikes). Coming off the team’s first non-playoff season since 2008, it’s time for things to change in New England; that change could include adding a veteran like AJ Green.
New England, who holds the number 15 spot in the 2021 NFL Draft, is favored to select a quarterback. If Green can return to form as a legitimate No. 1 option, he could add an entirely new dimension to the Patriots’ new offense. The only question is; will Bill Belichick want to gamble on another aging receiver? It may seem unlikely, but the Patriots head coach has a history of bringing in disgruntled ex-stars (Randy Moss), and Green wouldn’t be the first player to resurrect his career in Foxboro after hitting a rough patch.
According to spotrac.com, the Patriots will go into the offseason with $54,861,687 in cap space. With big name UFA’s to lock up such as David Andrews, Joe Thuney and JC Jackson, there may not be much room to add a player above Green’s caliber. This is the perfect system for Green to revitalize his career, and Belichick may just be the coach who can unlock the seven-time Pro Bowler’s old form.
As each day goes by, the likelihood of star wide receiver Allen Robinson staying in Chicago seems to grow more bleak. If Robinson walks, the Bears receiving options are going to look grim. While fifth-round wonder boy Darnell Mooney and part-time boxer Anthony Miller may not equate to the loss of the perennial Pro Bowler Robinson, if Chicago could go out and secure a veteran like Green to jump into Robinson’s place, we could see a major uptick in Green’s production.
If the Bears, who are coming off a tumultuous 8-8 season, want to make a run in the NFC North next season, it wouldn’t hurt to give Green a chance to once again prove his worth. As somebody who would most likely be a rental, it could be a safe bet for a cap-struggling team who has bigger needs than just receiver.
Chicago will go into the offseason with $-10,510,748 in cap space. Currently, the Bears only quarterback under contract in Nick Foles. If Foles is the starter going into next season, he could seriously benefit from having a receiver like Green by his side. A ball hawk who is going to win 50/50 battles; a mold very similar to Foles heart (Alshon Jeffrey). Now, I know it’s tough to replace a receiver of Robinson’s caliber, but for a much cheaper price, Green could jump in and fill his shoes quite nicely next season.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers didn’t draft a wide receiver in the year of the wide receiver? Say it ain’t so. They traded up and took Jordan Love in the first round? Blasphemous. Surely this team must’ve missed the playoffs, right? Well, luckily for Green Bay, none of these moves had much impact on Aaron Rodgers, the MVP frontrunner who led his squad to back-to-back NFC Championship games.
This entire season, Rodgers has made lemonade out of lemons; throwing to the likes of Robert Tonyan and Marquez Valdes-Scantling while Davante Adams missed some time with a hamstring injury. When healthy, Adams is one of the best receivers in all of football; therefore, the Packers may not need to make a major splash at the receiver position. Green is a seasoned veteran who can step into this system and provide an immediate boost to the highest scoring offense of 2020.
According to spotrac.com, the Packets will go into the offseason with $-31,571,617 in cap space. First thoughts when looking at that number? Tough. While I’m not a cap expert and don’t pretend to be, I believe the Packers could find the room to add a veteran like Green as a rental. With the uncertainty of whether or not free agents Aaron Jones, Robert Tonyan and Corey Linsley will return to Green Bay, Green could be a valuable addition to this fast-paced offense.
Even after understanding that many of Philadelphia’s struggles this season at wide receiver have had to do with injury, you still have to recognize that it is a major need on this team. After you factor in that the team will begin paying Carson Wentz his 4 year, $128 million contract next season, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room when it comes to cap space.
Philadelphia could potentially clear up space by cutting veterans such as Desean Jackson and Alshon Jeffrey, but that would leave the team with second-round bust JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Jalen Reagor, whose injury-marred rookie season looked like a lost cause. The once-reliable Zach Ertz has seen his production fall off a cliff (career-low 30.5 yards per game), and the emergence of Dallas Goedert was cut short due to an ankle injury.
Philadelphia will go into the offseason with $-51,875,536 in cap space. While that may look desolate, with the right moves made, the Eagles could find the space for a contract of Green’s value. Green’s NFL tank may not be full, but if he could just add a little fuel on this fire, he’d give Carson Wentz another downfield option in an otherwise barren receiving landscape.