After two seasons in the NFL, it’s clear that the Cincinnati Bengals will be locking up superstar wide receiver AJ Green for the long-term as soon as possible. The league’s rules prevent them from giving him a contract until his third season, the upcoming year, but Green has already done enough to prove that he is in the elite class of receivers with Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. For that reason, this year’s free agent class should have little to no impact on what Green can expect in his new contract.
Dwayne Bowe became the first of this year’s receiving class to agree to a new contract. Bowe is being paid $56 million over five years by the Kansas City Chiefs. Bowe became the third highest paid receiver in the league when he signed that contract. Only Johnson and Fitzgerald are ahead of him, while he will earn less than $1 million more than Vincent Jackson who signed his contract as a free agent last year. Bowe is an excellent receiver, but he is part of the second tier in the league behind Green, Johnson and Fitzgerald. He managed 59 receptions for over 800 yards and three touchdowns in 12 starts last year with awful quarterback play.
Along with Bowe, Mike Wallace is the only receiver on this year’s free agent market who could even come into consideration for Green. Wallace is notably younger than Bowe and is coming off his rookie contract. He has already turned down huge money from the Pittsburgh Steelers and should be able to get a massive payday from another team. Because of his relative youth and sheer speed, something that every franchise covets, Wallace could eclipse Bowe’s deal and earn upwards of $60 million on a five year deal. Even at that, the template won’t fit the contract that the Bengals will offer to Green.
The Bengals will likely structure a very cap friendly contract, similar to that of Joe Flacco, by guaranteeing Green most of the deal through various bonuses. Both Fitzgerald and Johnson earned more than $100 million for seven seasons, which will be what Green can expect also. Because it is much earlier in his career than it was in theirs, Green can’t expect to reach exactly the same heights as they did instantly. Green still has the longevity left to accrue two long-term contracts, so he doesn’t need to force a massive payday on his first deal. He should receive an offer from the Bengals for seven years and between $90-$100 million. Up to $50 million of that contract could be guaranteed, maybe even more.
So even though there has been and will be much more money spent on wide receivers this off-season, don’t expect them to impact the Bengals’ future with their superstar wide receiver.