A.J. Green officially closed the Green-Dalton Era on Friday and began the Age of A.J. & Joe when the Bengals best player signed the franchise tender to secure his statesman's place in new franchise quarterback Joe Burrow's first training camp.
Before NFL owners convened on Friday to hammer out the camp details for a league coping with the coronavirus pandemic, Green opted to sign a one-year deal for nearly $18 million that the Bengals hope is a pre-cursor to a longer, career-ending deal that can't be negotiated until after the season.
So does Green. After discussions this week with Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, executive vice president Katie Blackburn and agent Ben Dogra, he said, "We're all in a good place." They couldn't beat the Wednesday deadline for an extension, but Green thinks they may have got something if there hadn't been a pandemic.
"I've got the same mindset. I want to play another four years and I hope to retire as a Bengal," said Green, before joining his wife for a day on a lake near their Atlanta home. "There were never harsh words. I understand there's a business side of it. For me, I just want to play football."
Green says the team has told him they also want him to retire a Bengal "many times. I just have to stay healthy and put some great football on tape and go from there. It will work itself out. I'm just happy to get back into Zac's system."
No one ever thought that Green, the consummate pro heading into his 10th season, would hold out. He's not only looking to jump-start a career that was on the fast track to Canton before missing what amounts to the last 24 games with toe and ankle injuries, but he's all in on the move to Burrow after playing with Andy Dalton his entire career.
"I'm very excited about it," Green said. "I was blessed to have Andy all these years. I've seen Joe's body of work. I'm just happy to be healthy."
Green, who turns 32 on the last day of the month, gives Burrow one of the game's great receivers with career totals of 602 catches and 63 touchdowns. Among overall No. 1 picks who were quarterbacks since the common draft in 1967, only Kyler Murray last season had a more prolific wide receiver than Green in Larry Fitzgerald.
"I've watched him the last two years in the SEC. He beat up my Bulldogs a couple of times," Green said of Burrow back in May. "He's one of the best. With his attitude toward the game, the adversity he went through to get to where he is, you've got to appreciate that from a guy who's been an underdog to being an (overall) No. 1 draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner. You have to respect his grind and his process the way he goes about his business each day."
In what has to be music to the ears of Bengaldom, Green says the torn ankle ligaments that wiped out all of his 2019 season have been healed long enough that he's been running routes since February. He has been catching balls from Florida quarterback Emory Jones and had hoped to join Burrow and some other receivers for a throwing session in Cincinnati earlier this month that got cancelled for fear of spreading the virus.
With veterans tentatively scheduled to report July 28, Green is ready for the virus and plans to play through it. But not with a face shield.
"I can barely breathe with a visor," Green said. "They're trying to put a plan in place, but it's out of our control. We can do our best, but you really can't control this thing until we actually get a vaccine. Basketball's trying to make it work and as they go we can learn from them. I feel like you can't run from it. That would be tough, not being able to play. I understand the safety reason. We're still debating about kids going to school. There are going to be a lot of things up in the air."