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A.J. Green: Probably Won't Play Last Two Games, But Off-Season Training Starts On Time

WR A.J. Green walks out to practice.
WR A.J. Green walks out to practice.

Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green met with his foot guru Monday and there's good news and bad news, although the good news is very good and the bad news isn't all that bad.

Green said Tuesday he's probably not going to play in the final two games this season, wiping out all of his ninth NFL season with that dastardly ankle injury suffered in the first 45 minutes of training camp. But Dr. Robert Anderson told him the words he wanted to hear during his trip to Green Bay, Wis., when he told Green he can have a normal offseason of training and the injury won't prevent him from continuing an All Pro career. He says he'll be ready out of the gate as 2019 mercifully disappears into 2020.

"I feel good just getting confirmation from him. Knowing there's no effect on my future," Green said. "I never thought it would be that bad that I could never play at a high level. Just hearing him saying it made me feel a lot better."

But it is bad enough. First-year head coach Zac Taylor lost his best and most indispensable player while charting a new course for the franchise and an offense that was suddenly straitjacketed without its best vertical playmaker. And Green lost an entire season in a brilliant career already dogged by injuries. The Bengals never put him on injured reserve because they knew they were looking at torn ankle ligaments, an inscrutable injury that could take six weeks or six months.

It turned out to be closer to the latter and Green has often said, "I would have been better off breaking it."

Green, who practiced just one day during the season in limited fashion before it swelled up on him, has been on and off the rehab field during practice lately and he's offered some brief, but tantalizing pre-game workouts on the grass on the road. He said he hasn't suffered any setbacks as of late.

"It's finally turned the corner. It's been feeling better and better each week," Green said. "There were no setbacks. The plan was to go up there (to meet Anderson). He liked the way it looked. He said it's only a matter of time. It's not (ready) to play a game, but he was like, it's a good thing I didn't rush this thing."

The Bengals play on the lush grass of Miami Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12), but it appears Green won't be practicing Wednesday but again working with Bengals rehab chief Nick Cosgray.

"(Anderson) said the biggest thing for me is to get my range of motion back," Green said. "Most of it is back. It will take time as I keep running routes and keep doing stuff with Nick."

The injury not only blew up Taylor's first season, but it marred Green's contract year. The sides had talked last offseason as Green rehabbed from surgery on his big toe, an injury that wiped out all but one quarter of the last eight games. Then came this injury and everybody regrouped to make sure his health was the top priority. He says he still has a good relationship with the team and wants to come back, but he's uncertain as he heads into that 10th season.

"Nobody ever pushed me. I've felt no pressure to come back and play," Green said. "But you know this is a business. You never know. This could be my last big deal. I have to make sure everything is right and then we go from there. But I'll be ready to go."

The Bengals are most likely going to hold their highest draft pick since they took Green with the fourth in 2011 and that can only mean starting all over again. He says that won't keep him from wanting to come back as the buzz reaches a crescendo about him being LSU quarterback Joe Burrow's favorite target. Maybe because he went to the playoffs with a rookie quarterback named Andy Dalton he's intrigued by the prospect of a new start no matter the selection.

"It's exciting," Green said. "Where ever the pick is going to be, it's going be a big effect on our team. You pick that high you're going to draft a guy that's going to make an impact on the team at that moment. I just want to win at this point in my career. It's not just about the money. It's about continuing to build my legacy and that's by winning."

Green says he wouldn't mind being a bridge to the next Bengals era. But he also says, "We'll see. It's a business."

There's no question the Bengals want to keep Green. For how long and how much is the question and there are so many questions. They know Green, a seven-time Pro Bowler, is a Hall-of-Famer on and off the field, the perfect man to begin with all over again, the greatest wide receiver in the history of a franchise blessed with some of the greatest receivers the game has ever had. They also know when he turns 32 the first week of training camp, he will have not been active for 23 of the previous 24 games. His last full game, the one he ended with a vintage sliding catch to set up a last-play field goal to beat Tampa Bay at Paul Brown Stadium, came on Oct. 28, 2018.

They have time. If they don't reach a deal before free agency starts in March, they can make him the franchise free agent with a one-year tender of $18 million and keep him off the market. Then they'd have until July 15 to work out something long-term. They can't do a multi-year deal after that and a player has until the 10th week of the season to sign the tender in order to be eligible to play that season.

Green says he won't hold out an entire season if they can't go long-term, but he also says he doesn't know when he'd report. Don't count on him for spring ball.

"I have no problem with the franchise (tag). I don't like it, but I'm not a guy that's going to sit out the whole year," Green said. "But at the end of the day, that shows me they're not committed to me. That's fine. They have a business they have to run. As the player I have my own business, so if you do that I have to protect myself.

"If you're not committed to me long-term, I understand. There are no hard feelings. You have a business to run. All great businesses face difficult decisions. I understand that. For me, I have to make a big decision as well."

There may be a quagmire of questions, but he's still sticking to his long-term goal. He's already got the Bengals' most 100-yard games in a career (33), season (six) and consecutive games (five). He still wants Chad Johnson's career records of most yards (he needs 1,877 for 10,784), catches (he needs 150 for 752) and touchdown catches, where he needs seven for 70.

"That was the goal always," Green said. "To break every receiving record here."


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