A.J. Green finds refreshing fit with DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals
A.J. Green couldn’t help it. He kept mentioning the past 10 years with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Whether it was about joining All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins on the Arizona Cardinals, his first time experiencing free agency or his expectations for 2021, Green couldn’t help but mention where he’d been his entire NFL career.
Introduced as a member of the Cardinals on Thursday, the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver made it clear that he approached the offseason looking for newness.
“I’ve been in Cincinnati for 10 years, that’s all I know, so coming to Arizona is refreshing,” the 32-year-old Green said.
“You saw what Tom Brady did last year. I think it’s good (for change). … I don’t feel like I have anything to prove. Played this game at a high level for a long time. For me, I just want to go out there and play football, have fun again.”
In football terms, the attraction to Arizona is obvious.
At 6-foot-4, Green projects as an outside receiver who for the first time won’t be the top option with Hopkins drawing attention on the other side of the field.
“I think that’s going to take a lot off me because of what he’s done in this league, the caliber of player he is,” Green said. “For me to be on the other side of that, I’m going to get a lot of one-on-ones. I’m very excited about that.”
Hopkins reeled in 115 catches for 1,407 yards in his first year as a Cardinal. He also ranked second league-wide in an off-ball metric that rates how much attention he drew away from his teammates.
That should benefit Green, but the domino effect goes further.
It’s probable that Green bumps fourth-year pro Christian Kirk to the slot full-time, and the numbers say that could help the Cardinals.
According to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, Kirk was better in the slot than out wide, where he primarily played in 2020. Kirk was targeted more (17% to 11%) and averaged more yards per route (1.09 to 0.84) when in the slot versus on the outside.
Getting back to Green, the quarterback situation mattered to him when picking a new home.
The veteran said that his former Bengals coach, current Arizona State staffer Marvin Lewis, told Green that Kyler Murray can spin it.
“I feel like this league is going to quarterbacks that can really create,” Green said. “To see how he throws that thing, it just soars out his arm, out his hand. It’s like, so pretty.
“I (was) talking to Coach Lewis, I’m pretty sure he’s been to a couple practices. He told me one thing about Kyler: ‘He can sling it, A.J. You’re going to be very happy.'”
Green played 16 games last season and recorded 523 receiving yards with two touchdowns for a Bengals team that began integrating No. 1 pick Joe Burrow into the pro ranks before a knee injury cost him the final six games.
From there, it was Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley throwing passes to Green.
While Green’s ankle injury that sidelined him for the full 2019 season and the Bengals’ struggles appeared to make the receiver’s departure a certainty, he tried to take his 2020 season in stride.
“I feel like I have a lot left in the tank. I still feel young, legs feel young,” he said. “Last year was a difficult year for me playing with these different quarterbacks coming off of injury. I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world.
“I think that made me a better person on the field, mentally stronger. I feel like I have a lot of years in me, playing at a high level as well.”
Athletic ability aside, if Green was just feeling old knowing he’s coming off a decade-long run with the Bengals, his first time experiencing free agency at least took him back in time.
Green said it reminded him of college recruiting.
Being introduced Thursday to an energetic head coach in Kliff Kingsbury on a sunny day at the Cardinals’ Tempe facility made him feel even better about his choice.
“I think the biggest thing for the Cardinals is I felt wanted,” Green said. “I think they showed that they really wanted me. I felt love. I felt like, OK, this was a spot for me, they want me to be here.
“I’ve never been through this process so I didn’t know what to expect. When I started talking to people in the organization, having my agent talking to them, coming here today, it just felt overwhelming. … Being greeted, looking at the facilities, it felt unbelievable. My wife and I, just a very humbling experience.”