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A.J. Green And Family Head Into Retirement Rooting For Bengals: After 12 NFL Seasons, 'I'm At Peace'

A.J. Green (right) is still friends with Bengals receivers like Tyler Boyd.
A.J. Green (right) is still friends with Bengals receivers like Tyler Boyd.

A.J. Green may be retired from the NFL. But not from rooting for the team that drafted him a dozen years ago.

"Miranda is like, 'Now we can root for the Bengals again,'" Green said of his grateful wife no longer worrying about injuries. "That's my team now. I want those guys to win. I'm a big fan of Joe (Burrow), and those guys. One thing about the Bengals. They'll draft the skill players unbelievably. They always do well. I hope they can keep all those boys in."

Even the youngest Green, soon to be four, is all in on the Bengals.

"Gunnar always tells me, 'Daddy, you need to go back to the Bengals,'" said Green, a day after he made his retirement officially did.

A day, he says from Atlanta, "I'm at peace."

 "It's a blessing. I played 12 years. I played for only two teams. I'm very blessed. I have my health. The big thing for me is I can walk away on my own terms knowing I did everything the right way … Physically I could play a couple of more years, but mentally it's tougher. You know me. If I'm not fully invested in , I'm cheating the game and it was time to walk away."

The guys he doesn't want to cheat are Gunnar and six-year-old Easton Ace Green. Better known as "Easy."

"We live a pretty hectic lifestyle as professional athletes," Green said. "No matter how tired I was or busy I was, I sucked it up and played with them. I never wanted them to think Daddy turned them down once to play. I don't want to take up time away from them."

It can't be all that surprising that Easy is so tall that people think he's eight or nine and that he recently scored three touchdowns for his flag football team with his dad coaching. Now both he and Gunnar have signed up for baseball.

"Just like a couple of years ago Easy became crazy about sports," Green said. "He knows all the players. Basketball. Football. He's always playing Madden and he loves all the young receivers. Loves Cooper Kupp. Loves Deebo. Jefferson. Loves Chase. Joe Burrow. Joe Mixon."

 How about A.J. Green circa 2013 or so when he caught more balls than anybody in the first three seasons of a career? Or the A.J. Green of about 2017, when he became the first wide receiver in the 48 seasons of the NFL merger to go to the Pro Bowl in his first seven seasons?

The Green guys will soon know their dad was one of the most elegant wide receivers the NFL has ever seen and one of the classiest athletes to ever grace Cincinnati sports. True to his character, there is not a shred of bitterness about the injuries that cost him two 1,000-yard seasons and maybe three.

He finished with 10,514 career yards, a challenging number in a Pro Football Hall of Fame debate with Julio Jones (13,629), DeAndre Hopkins (11,298) and Davante Adams (9,637) still playing. But like Green says, the voters are going to have to take a good, hard look at those first seven years, when he was one of only four players selected to every Pro Bowl from 2011-2017, and one of 12 to earn such an honor in the Super Bowl era.

"I felt like when I was out there I was one of the best," Green said. "Look at how I was playing in those years I did get hurt."

Indeed, he had 964 yards in 2016 averaging a monstrous 96.4 yards in ten games before a season-ending torn hamstring prevented him from getting 1,000 yards for the first time. That was a loss of 578 yards. Then in 2018 he was averaging 77 yards per game (694) when he virtually missed the last eight games with a foot injury. That's a 616-yard loss. Write in your own number for the entire 2019 season, missed when he hurt his ankle in head coach Zac Taylor's first training camp practice. That puts him past Chad Johnson's Bengals-record 10,783 yards and well into the 12-13,000 territory.

"A freak accident," said Green of that '19 ankle injury, saying nothing more. "Those things happen in this sport, where there's a 100-percent injury rate. Very few players never get injured and I feel blessed to have the years I had."

One of them was his last in Cincinnati in 2020, when he teamed with Burrow and a rookie wide receiver named Tee Higgins, the kid from Clemson saying he idolized Green growing up. Green says he wasn't all that healthy then, either, after pulling a hamstring in training camp. He figures he was 70 percent while catching 523 yards, but he loved playing with Burrow, Higgins and his running mate since '16, Tyler Boyd.

"I'm so proud of Tee. The guy is a No. 1 receiver," Green said. "They've got two with Ja'Marr. I knew Tee was going to be a great receiver, but to see him playing so confidently and so well, it's so great to see. I was telling people all along (Burrow) was going to be great."

Green is still on a group text with Higgins and Boyd. When they drafted Chase a month after Green left, Green texted receivers coach Troy Walters and they thought he reminded them of a fast A.J. Brown. Green could go back even longer than. "He's not as tall as lot of these guys, but he's a fast. Like a fast Anqan Boldin. Love Chase."

When he retired Monday he reached out to plenty of Bengals on and off the field, past and present. Former head coach Marvin Lewis. Director of rehab Nick Cosgray. Boyd.

"I loved my time in Cincinnati. I became A.J. Green there," he said. "It's always going to be home. I'll always be a Bengal."

Now you can also call Green an investor planning to dabble in some real estate ventures.

"I'm really excited to be with my family all the time now and for the next chapter," said Green, who'll have some wordsmithing to do to match the last one.