During one of the greatest and classiest careers in Bengals history, A.J. Green always modeled himself after the stately Larry Fitzgerald. Now he may replace Fitzgerald in Arizona. Or, two of the greatest wide receivers of the NFL's Madden generation could be teammates.
According to reports Green agreed to a deal with the Cardinals just hours before the NFL new year began Wednesday, ending his 127-game run in Cincinnati that featured the most successful decade in franchise history and began with his record seven straight Pro Bowls.
Green, who turns 33 the first week of training camp, had hoped to duplicate Fitzgerald's feat of playing his entire career with one team. Fitzgerald, who Green has used as a sounding board, is a free agent, too, as Green embarks on an effort to revive a career that was derailed by toe and ankle injuries after six 1-000-yard seasons.
After missing what amounted to 24 straight games, Green played all 16 last season and struggled along with an offense challenged by a rookie quarterback learning the game and his receivers with no spring ball or preseason games.
When Joe Burrow got hurt in the tenth game, Green ended up with career-low 47 catches and 523 yards from three different quarterbacks in an offense he played in for the first time.
"It definitely was a learning curve for me," Green said before this season's last game. "I'm used to moving around a lot, put me in different positions. But in here, we have a talented receiver group so I don't have to move around a lot. For me, everything was new. I pretty much played X the whole season. A lot of stuff, a lot of routes I'm not used to."
But when looking for a running mate for his all-time Bengals team, Isaac Curtis, the first great Bengals receiver, gave his nod to Green back in December. With a frosty grace the 6-4 Green snagged and stretched to 649 catches, 9,430 yards and 65 touchdowns. The only Cincinnati receiver with more in those categories is Chad Johnson.
"His size, his range, his route running. He can run every route in the book. The whole tree," Curtis told Bengals.com. "When he was healthy and at the top of his game he was as good as any receiver in the league. He really goes after the ball. When it is in the air he really attacks the ball. He gives your quarterback a lot of confidence. He'd take the pressure off me. Maybe I'd get all the balls because they'd double him. I know this. It would be fun."
During that final Zoom appearance with the Cincinnati media, Green reminisced about his biggest moments. All against the backdrop of the streak of seven Pro Bowls that began when he was drafted with the fourth pick in 2011. No receiver has begun his career like that in the 50 years since the merger.
There was the overtime win over Seattle at The Paul in 2015 when they came back from 24-7 down. There was the win in Baltimore in 2015, where his career-high 227 yards beat the Ravens on two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
"Just going back and forth with Steve Smith and I. That was probably one of the biggest moments because I looked up to a guy like Steve Smith growing up, his game and watching him do what he did at that age and that late in his career at Baltimore," Green said.
Which is funny because when the Bengals took Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins with the first pick of the second round in the 2020 draft, Higgins said Green is his favorite all-time receiver and that's why the Bengals were his favorite team growing up.
Now, Higgins is replacing Green as the No. 1 receiver for the Bengals while Green could possibly join one of his favorites in Phoenix. Or replace him.
"Anything is possible," Green said that last week. "I don't really think about my last game. I'm at a point in my career where I've played for a long time. So, just go out there and put my best foot forward. And whatever happens after the season is already in God's plans, so I'm not really worried about what's going to happen."
View some of the best images from wide receiver A.J. Green during the 2020 NFL season.