Bengals' best option for A.J. Green might also be riskiest

Kiper doesn't see Young surpassing Burrow for No.1 pick (1:45)

Mel Kiper Jr. doesn't see any way the Bengals take Chase Young over Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall draft pick. (1:45)

MOBILE, Ala. -- Even before A.J. Green suffered the worst injury of his career, any conversation about his status with the Cincinnati Bengals hinged on his future.

Before the Bengals wide receiver tore multiple ankle ligaments that contributed to his absence for the entire 2019 season, he fielded questions about his long-term outlook with the franchise that drafted him in 2011.

The longer the two sides have gone without making a deal, the bleaker the options look for the Bengals' top offensive player with free agency looming. And the best route for the 32-year-old Green, who is set to become a free agent when the new league year begins in March, also could be the riskiest.

On Wednesday, Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin, the de facto general manager, sounded in favor of a long-term deal for Green. That likely will require a significant financial investment in a player who has missed 23 of the past 24 games because of injuries.

If Green gets that long-term deal and can't stay healthy or doesn't produce like he did at the beginning of his career, a rich contract will limit salary-cap space for a rebuilding franchise.

But all options, including a franchise tag that would lock in Green for one more year at around $17 million, could have negative long-term ramifications for the Bengals, who finished with the NFL's worst record in 2019 at 2-14.

Green on Wednesday reiterated his disdain for the tag and suggested the move will affect how he views the Bengals.

"When you put that on me, that's what you're showing me," Green told Cincinnati's WLWT-TV. "You only want me for one year.

"And I always play with a chip on my shoulder."

From the Bengals' perspective, the franchise tag is a logical and likely option. It gives Green time to show he's healthy, productive and worthy of a multiyear investment.

And a deal with multiple years aligns with Green's and Tobin's long-term vision. Tobin on Wednesday bristled at the idea of seeing Green wear another team's jersey.

"That's not the plan," Tobin said in Alabama at practice for the Senior Bowl, which will feature the Bengals' coaching staff.

The Bengals passed on the opportunity to get a draft pick for Green when they didn't move him at the trade deadline on Oct. 29. They could in theory trade him after putting the franchise tag on him, but that's unlikely.

A draft pick acquired in a trade could be used to select a wide receiver in the draft, which is considered to be one of the deepest at that position in several years. But Tobin is against trading a proven veteran like Green -- who topped 1,000 receiving yards in six of his first seven seasons -- for a college prospect.

"I understand the school of thought," Tobin said. "If you have a proven guy, it's better to stay with the proven guy so he can continue to produce."

Whether it's making a decision on Green or drafting a quarterback like Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in the draft, everything Cincinnati does this offseason should be geared toward not just 2021 but beyond. If Green stays healthy and plays well, it could expedite Burrow's growth process early in his career.

And in this scenario, the Bengals will maximize the value of one of their best assets. It also keeps Green in Cincinnati, a city he has embraced during his nine-year career.

But that all depends on what happens this offseason. For a franchise and player both fond of each other, the process might not be easy.

"When you run a business," Green told WLWT-TV, "you have to make difficult decisions."