When the Pittsburgh Steelers decided that they could live without Antonio Brown, it was already after they had seen the second-year emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster. Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd had a nice season last year, but nothing that should persuade the team that he can be their top guy and that they don’t need A.J. Green.
Green, the fourth-overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, is entering his ninth season, and the final year of his contract. He is also coming off an injury-plagued season in which a foot injury, which he tried to play through, only to very quickly re-injure it. That complicates matters a bit, even if he expects to be a full participant in training camp.
In his eight seasons, Green has so far put up 602 receptions for 8907 yards and 63 touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl every year of his career until 2018, and that was only because he missed half the season. Before his injury, he was already well on his way to a strong year, posting 46 receptions for 694 yards and six touchdowns.
Only three players have recorded more receiving yards since Green entered the league, and only one of them—Julio Jones—did not play in at least 10 more games. He is also fifth in receptions during that time, and sixth in touchdowns.
On top of that, outside of that one time that Jalen Ramsey really pissed him off, he has been one of the most upstanding men in all of the NFL, and has displayed some of the greatest loyalty to an organization. He has said on a number of occasions that he wasn’t looking to chase the top monetary figure at his position. He recently said that he can’t even see himself playing anywhere else.
How much does he have left in the tank, though, coming off a foot injury? Those can be very complicated for a wide receiver. It completely derailed the career of Hakeem Nicks, who hasn’t played since 2015. The injury occurred in the 2012 offseason, and he was never quite the same again, his career slowly dwindling. Aside from Green’s foot injury, he’s also about to turn 31.
And there’s a new head coach, and staff, in place. How are they going to view Green? How are they going to treat him? Do they view him as an essential piece of their long-term plans for the offense, and if so, will they act on that by giving him an extension later this summer?
If they’re that worried about it, they didn’t show it in the draft, since they didn’t add any. They didn’t sign any in free agency, either. Aside from Green and Boyd, they’re hoping that John Ross puts things together this year, and they have a few young players around them who are more bit parts, but none who could replace Green.