It wasn’t a good look.
A.J. Green’s only target against the Baltimore Ravens was off-target, but he made no effort to grab Joe Burrow’s pass, bat it away, or tackle Marcus Peters after he intercepted it. Later in the game, he perhaps voiced his frustration on the sideline and his desire to be traded as a result of being misused.
Meanwhile, on the season, Green - who is being paid $18 million - has just 14 receptions on 34 targets for 119 yards and 0 touchdowns. His yardage places him 131st among receivers, his catches 94th, and his catch rate is 76th in the league.
All of that is bad. Very bad.
Still... let’s have some perspective.
Forget that Green has 9,026 yards in his career, second to only Chad Johnson. Forget that he has 63 touchdowns, tied with Carl Pickens for second only behind Johnson. Forget that he racked up those yards and made seven straight Pro Bowls with the inconsistent Andy Dalton, who lacked the arm strength to fully take advantage of Green’s big-play ability.
Forget that Green is apparently being put on the field with a bad hamstring (that he’s had since camp) and thus made to look worse than he actually is ahead of his last potential big payday.
Forget that Green, now 32, has dealt with terrible playcalling for most of his 10 year career and with pathetic offensive lines that have held back the offense (and his contributions) for the past five years.
Let’s just remember one specific incident, which will function as a microcosm of a larger point.
It was December 24, 2016. The Bengals were 5-8-1 and had nothing to play for. Green had missed four straight games due to a hamstring injury, but he had been as impressive as ever in the 9 games before he was injured, notching 66 catches for 964 yards and 4 touchdowns. Green was tied with Randy Moss for the most 1,000 yard receiving seasons to start a career (5).
Green’s first child, Easton Ace, was born just three months earlier. This was to be his first Christmas Eve as a father.
Green felt good enough to play. The team flew him out to Houston to play. And then, at the last moment, they decided to pull him... after they already dragged him 1,000 miles away from his family. He ended up being so upset that, after flying back home on Saturday, Green wasn’t seen in a single meeting the next week.
It was later revealed he had a partially torn hamstring tendon as well and it was Mike Brown’s decision to shut him down for the season. But whether pulling him was the right decision or not wasn’t what was important. It was the way the team handled the move. Just like how they tried to casually sneak in the benching of Carlos Dunlap. Or how, last year, they benched the franchise quarterback on his birthday, which was also three hours before the trade line. Needless to say, Andy Dalton was not happy.
The next season, when the Bengals’ offense struggled mightily out of the gate, Green complained (rightfully) for the first time ever about how he was being used in the offense. Cincinnati’s management style began to wear on him.
The Bengals are loyal and strangely family-like in certain situations, sometimes showing more support for their troubled players than almost any other franchise would. That’s heartwarming and sweet, but not always appropriate. Meanwhile, they make boneheaded blunders like the Christmas Eve debacle or the Dunlap benching over and over again. They let go of important vets at key positions, like Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, jeopardizing the careers and legacies of their other stars and then overpay for average cornerbacks.
After a while, it gets to be too much.
Green wants to win and - until recently - he definitely wanted to do it in Cincinnati. Yes, he doesn’t have the most durable body. Yes, he hasn’t looked very good so far this year. But the absolute hate being hurled at him is not just inappropriate, it vindicates the real culprits of his wasted peak: the Bengals’ front office.
We talk about Green’s performance against the Ravens and the o-line’s meltdown in our most recent podcast, available on iTunes and YouTube.
You can also listen on the player below. Make sure to leave a 5-star rating and subscribe if you like what you hear.