A.J. Green finds his value with Bengals, setting up potential split in 2021

CINCINNATI -- No matter what happened this offseason, A.J. Green was going to find out how much he was valued by the Cincinnati Bengals.

After 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, the veteran wide receiver got his answer. The two sides failed to agree on a new contract, which means Green will likely play the 2020 season on the one-year franchise tag worth $18.2 million, assuming he eventually signs the paperwork as expected.

Green became one of the marquee players on the Bengals the moment they selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft. That appears destined to change after the 2020 season.

The lack of a long-term deal suggests Green's time in Cincinnati could be up by 2021. He hasn't spoken on the topic all offseason, but Green's previous comments suggest he believes he could be done in Cincinnati.

"They can franchise me and I can be here for another year, or we get a deal done," Green said in December. "Or we don't get a deal done. I'm prepared for anything."

The franchise tag makes sense given Green's injury history. He has missed 23 of the past 24 games and hasn't played since Week 11 of the 2018 season. Green did not play in all of 2019 after he tore multiple ligaments in his left ankle during the first preseason practice.

Green's age also doesn't work in his favor. He turns 32 at the end of July. And over the past decade, receivers that age or older tended to see their productivity decline.

Of the 219 times a player had 1,000 receiving yards in a season in the previous decade, only 11 were 32 or older, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And six players combined for those 11 instances.

However, Green made it clear he was against the concept of a franchise tag and how the designation reflects the confidence the Bengals have in him.

"When you put that on me, then that's what you're showing me -- you only want me for one year," Green told Cincinnati's WLWT-TV in January. "And I always play with a chip on my shoulder. We'll see what happens."

Green, a seven-time Pro Bowler, could use his 2020 season to prove he can stay healthy, show he can still be one of the most productive receivers in the NFL and make a run at a long-term deal heading into 2021. He's professed his desire to play his entire career in Cincinnati, but that could change after failing to get a long-term deal this offseason.

Green, who has six 1,000-yard seasons, could be hit with the franchise tag again next offseason, but it would cost the Bengals a considerable amount of money and result in some bad optics as well.

Between Green's comments and the Bengals' recent transactions, the split seems imminent after 2020.

The Bengals gave 25-year-old wide receiver Tyler Boyd a four-year extension worth $43 million last year. Boyd responded by surpassing 1,000 receiving yards for the second consecutive season.

In perhaps a less subtle move, the Bengals selected Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins in the second round of April's draft. Higgins said he modeled his playing style after Green. After Cincinnati made the selection, coach Zac Taylor said the move had nothing to do with Green's long-term outlook.

"This is just adding another weapon to the group," Taylor said. "Again, we really like A.J. Green and look forward to coaching him this year. We want him here for a long time. This in no way, shape or form affects what we think about A.J."

But if Green is unwilling to sign a long-term deal in 2021, the Bengals will have a couple of young wide receivers to build around as they begin the Joe Burrow era.

Green has established himself as one of the best wide receivers in Bengals history. If he stays healthy, he can potentially cement his case for the Hall of Fame.

But for now, his time in Cincinnati is only guaranteed until the end of 2020.

"When I first got drafted here, I said I always wanted to stay in one city, help build," Green said in December. "That's the kind of person I am. But, again, this is a business. I've been hurt for the last two years. That could change things."