A.J. Green’s 7 Pro Bowls, injury-riddled past, Fitz friendship: What to know
The Arizona Cardinals are not lacking in household names at the wide receiver position.
On top of Pro Bowler DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals have added seven-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green on a one-year deal. And that group could still include Larry Fitzgerald.
Arizona will be Green’s first home outside of Cincinnati since he was drafted fourth overall by the Bengals in 2011.
There’s a bit to cover in getting to know the 32-year-old, so let’s get to it.
One of the best
When rambling off the best receivers in the 2010s, it won’t take long to get to Green.
In Green’s first seven seasons from 2011-17, all of which earned him a Pro Bowl nod, he averaged 79 receptions, 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns per year. He is one of only five receivers to have at least six 1,000-yard seasons since he entered the league in 2011.
Green’s career number of 9,430 receiving yards is eighth among all active players and 65 receiving touchdowns is seventh. The veteran getting 570 yards to hit 10,000 would also make him only the 50th player to do so in NFL history.
As a testament to how deep the wide receiver position has been, Green has never made First-Team All Pro, but that did not stop him from being widely viewed as one of the best players in football. From 2013-18, he was ranked inside the top-25 of the NFL’s Top 100 five times, including a No. 9 ranking in 2014.
So what changed? Well…
Green missed six games in 2016 due to a Grade II tear in his right hamstring, but came back in 2017 and caught 75 balls for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns, still in high form.
Eight games into the following season, he still looked the part, racking up 45 catches, 687 yards and six touchdowns in only eight games.
Green, though, injured the big toe in his right foot and went on to miss the next three games. To avoid surgery, Green tried to rest it with those games off, but went on to reaggravate the toe injury in his return. He missed the rest of the season after having surgery for multiple torn ligaments in that toe.
Green would be ready for training camp, but on the first day of camp, he tore multiple ligaments in his left ankle. There was some mystery around what was exactly going on with Green after that, as it was initially reported that he had a minor procedure done to clean out his ankle and that he would be ready for Week 1. That procedure, though, led to the diagnosis of him missing multiple weeks.
Then that turned into the whole season, as it was a week-to-week tradition of no new developments on his potential return. Green would go on to say the following year that the media didn’t know how serious the ankle injury was and that “everybody knew” he wasn’t ready to play.
Passing of the torch
Green worked hard to make sure that left ankle was right going into 2020 after the Bengals assigned him the franchise tag.
The writing, however, was on the wall that it might not be much longer for him in Cincinnati and the Bengals had a good reason for it too.
The Bengals drafted Clemson wideout Tee Higgins 33rd overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, and it’s not like they needed another heir apparent to Green, either, as 2016 second-round pick Tyler Boyd was coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
With No. 1 pick Joe Burrow under center, the Bengals’ passing game went on to be productive without Green prominently featured in it. Higgins led the team in receiving yards (908) and touchdowns (6) while Boyd snagged the most passes (79).
Green had 47 catches for 523 yards and two touchdowns, looking far from the dominant player he was in years past.
The veteran, known as a consummate professional and not for publicly voicing his displeasure, at times said he was frustrated with losing but never had it go beyond that.
Looking up to Fitz
This is where we can get into Green’s relationship with Fitzgerald, as those two can certainly relate to a few things on substandard quarterback play and greatness out of the spotlight!
The Athletic’s Paul Dehner Jr. explored that in 2019 while talking to Green about Fitzgerald.
Green struck up a friendship with Fitzgerald at the end of his rookie year, seeking advice on how to stay in peak physical condition.
A younger Green at the time admitted he was a little starstruck,
“I’m like, ‘Oh my god, this is Larry Fitzgerald,’ man, a guy I grew up watching to see him on the field,” Green said of the first meetings. “The impact is not just on the field, but the kind of guy he is. He’s not afraid to mentor the young guys … it was awesome just to see that he knew who I was and humbling.”
When Green was going through that toe injury, Fitzgerald recommended a specific trainer out of Minnesota for Green to use. Green, a wise man, listened and went on to use that trainer beyond the rehab work.
Going back to Green not being the guy to vent through the media, guess where he got that from?
“I always looked at Larry and his situation and how he handled things and wanted to model my game like his,” Green said. “Never in the media, always in the media for positive things. That’s the biggest thing for me is just watching him. I watch from a distance and how he carries himself on the field. I try to model my game like that.”
The wait is on as always with Fitzgerald to see if he comes back to Arizona, but it’s hard to think of someone who would be more excited than Green if Fitzgerald decides for one more year.
“It’s so hard now, you see everybody that’s not going well where they want a trade,” Green said. “I think Larry did it the right way. That’s why he’s a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. It’s not just his play on the field, it’s his off-field things. How he handles situations and never made any fuss. He just went out there and played his butt off. Kind of crazy a guy I look up to and now I’m in a similar situation as him. I just try to go about my business, love the game, prepare every week and play football. That’s all I’m here to do. I love the game and there’s no need to make a fuss about it.”