A.J. Green ranks second in Bengals franchise history in catches (602), receiving yards (8,907) and touchdown receptions (63). He ranks in the top six in each category in the NFL since 2011, when he was selected fourth overall. Though he's been dogged by injuries the past couple of years, he's been one of the better pass-catchers in the game for nearly a decade.
We should note that there have been no signs as of yet that the organization intends to do this. But Cincinnati is reeling at 0-5 in coach Zac Taylor's first season. Green, who hasn't played yet in 2019 due to an ankle injury suffered this summer that required surgery, is in the final year of his current contract. At this point, it would make sense for the Bengals, who face a steep uphill battle to competitiveness in 2019, to try to improve for the future by dealing away Green, as talented as he is (and as understandably unpopular as the move would apparently be within the locker room).
There are factors that will naturally limit the return for the seven-time Pro Bowler, including his contract status, his age (31), his recent injury history (he's missed 14 games since 2018; five this year with an ankle injury and nine last year with a toe injury) and his position. That said, presuming he's able to return to full health and the Bengals are interested in trying to extract whatever value they can from him, he should have the capacity to make an immediate impact for a new team in 2019. I'd think something in the range of a second-round pick would make sense in terms of Green's value at this point.
Who should go after him? Below, I've listed five teams that would make ideal landing spots for Green, five organizations that are competitive enough to justify spending draft capital on a potential short-term rental and could use help in their passing attack.
1) New England Patriots
On paper, this fit makes more sense than any other scenario. The Pats are undefeated, but they've also faced just one top-10 defense thus far -- and in that matchup with the Bills, Tom Brady posted his lowest passer rating in a game (45.9) since Week 9 of the 2006 season. Most of their attempts to bolster this receiving corps have flamed out, with Antonio Brown (released in September after being accused of rape and sexual assault in a civil lawsuit) just being the highest-profile example of a string of failed acquisitions, including Demaryius Thomas (traded away), Maurice Harris (released), Dontrelle Inman (released) and Bruce Ellington (released). Rookie N'Keal Harry is on injured reserve, and preseason hero Jakobi Meyers has disappeared (four catches for 66 yards), while Josh Gordon's history of suspensions makes it difficult to count on him.
I keep looking at the Patriots' roster and wondering how they continue to win, with the lack of proven receiving threats outside of veteran Julian Edelman seeming like it should be a glaring weakness. Green could follow in the footsteps of former Bengal-turned-Patriot Corey Dillon, who won a Super Bowl with Brady and Co. after a swap with Cincinnati in exchange for a second-round pick in 2004. (Of course, the flip side of that would be what happened with all-time leading Bengals receiver Chad Johnson, who produced 276 yards in 15 games after being sent to New England for a fifth-rounder in 2011.)
2) Buffalo Bills
If the Bills are going to push the Patriots in the AFC East or make a run as a wild-card team, they could stand to add offensive firepower. Though they are 4-1, they have just two receivers on the roster with double-digit receptions: John Brown (28 catches, 390 yards, one TD) and Cole Beasley (27 catches, 267 yards). (In fact, one receiver, Zay Jones, was traded away this week.) Brown has promise but also has topped 1,000 yards just once before, while Beasley, as valuable as he is, would not be considered a serious deep threat. Adding a savvy, reliable veteran who has far more career 20-yard receptions (118) than Brown (45) and Beasley (27) combined would certainly help the development of young QB Josh Allen. Plus, as a bonus, the Bills would be preventing Green from going to the Patriots.
3) New Orleans Saints
Whether Green were to arrive in New Orleans before or after Drew Brees' expected return from thumb injury in the next month or so, he would provide a boost for a passing attack that has been affected by Brees' absence. New Orleans has two great pieces in running back Alvin Kamara and wide receiver Michael Thomas, but the offense could really use someone capable of drawing more defensive attention away from Thomas. Consider that Thomas has 55 targets, second-most in the NFL this season, with 45 catches for 543 yards and three touchdowns; the next-closest receiver on the Saints' roster is Ted Ginn, who has turned 19 targets into 14 catches for 170 yards and a score. The only other receiver to register in the stat book is Tre'Quan Smith, and he's barely made a dent, with five targets, five catches, 75 yards and a touchdown.
That speaks volumes about the depth (or lack thereof) New Orleans is working with at the position -- and illustrates just how disastrous an Injury to Thomas would be to this win-now team's Super Bowl hopes. Green would relieve those concerns while also bringing a bit of deep-threat, big-play juice to the offense as a receiver capable of taking the ball 80 yards seemingly any time he touches it. This deal could require some maneuvering, since the Saints don't currently have a second-round pick in the 2020 draft, having traded it to Miami in this year's draft to move up for Erik McCoy.
4) Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles presently seem far more likely to try to acquire a cornerback than a receiver, considering the number of injuries in Philadelphia's secondary. But never say never when you're talking about general manager Howie Roseman, who's always trying to upgrade his roster. While Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert make a potent 1-2 punch at tight end, the receiving corps has been beset by injuries (to DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery) and inconsistency (Nelson Agholor and Mack Hollins have fallen off the game-plan map, with Agholor logging 115 snaps and just four targets and one catch in Philly's past two games). In a season that has been partly defined by the Eagles receivers' inability to hold on to the ball, Green would provide Carson Wentz with at least one reliable targeting safe-haven.
5) San Francisco 49ers
The Niners are currently thriving with a ground-heavy attack (they're tied for third in the NFL in running attempts and rank last in pass attempts through four games) that leans on tight end George Kittle, who has a team-high 29 targets, 23 catches and 235 receiving yards, to provide much of the aerial threat. But if they are to make a deep playoff run in 2019, they could definitely use a receiving asset like Green, who would become the No. 1 pass-catcher in a group currently featuring Marquise Goodwin and unproven youngsters Deebo Samuel and Dante Pettis. Green's familiarity with West Coast offense concepts could help him make a smooth transition to Kyle Shanahan's attack. And remember how prolific Falcons receiver Julio Jones was under Shanahan when Shanahan was serving as offensive coordinator in Atlanta: Jones put up a combined 219 catches for 3,280 yards and 14 scores from 2015 to '16, pacing the NFL in catches and receiving yards in '15. Like the Saints, the Niners have already traded away their second-rounder for 2020, so they might have to get creative.