Bengal Morning Take: Is A.J. Green next?

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
9:30
AM ET
From the moment news about Andy Dalton's contract extension hit social media Monday morning, a logical follow-up question was raised: Does it mean A.J. Green is next?

It's possible. But if the Cincinnati Bengals thought they had a fight on their hands trying to convince Dalton to agree to the terms of this six-year extension, convincing Green to commit to a similar long-term deal could be more challenging.

[+] EnlargeGreen
AP Photo/Don WrightA.J. Green's next contract will likely pay him at least $16 million per season.
By the time Green signs -- whether it's this year, next year or two years from now -- the Bengals will have a number of other big-money contracts sitting on their roster too. Either they'll have to start getting rid of veterans sooner than they'd like in order to make space, or they'll have to start drawing up bargain deals like Dalton's that are designed with other players in mind. While that's a good proposition for the team, a player might feel he isn't receiving fair market value for his position.

Based on early details about the structure of Dalton's new contract, it appears on the low end ($16 million per year) that he'll be making what many believe he's worth. It's still a figure that's dramatically lower than some of the league's elite. Although, if he meets certain game-play criteria, he could be in the $19 million per year range, and just below what the league's top quarterbacks are making. The Bengals created a performance-based deal that gives them real flexibility in the event they want to sign others soon.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bengals had just more than $23 million in cap space for 2014 before Dalton's extension. That means after his signing bonuses and base salary, they will have about $6 million more to use before hitting the cap. There's still room to sign linebacker Vontaze Burfict even though there isn't a big rush to do so. The former undrafted free agent could get a restricted free-agent tag slapped on him next offseason, and then an unrestricted free-agent tag the year after if he hasn't yet agreed to a long-term deal.

Since Green arguably is a top-3 receiver, and considering the two highest-paid NFL receivers are currently making just north of $16 million annually, it's hard to see the Bengals using their remaining cap dollars this year on him. The receiver that's No. 3 on the current money list, Percy Harvin, makes $12.9 million per year.

"My body of work speaks for itself," Green said Monday. "Whenever my time comes, it happens. That's one thing I don't think about."

A source told ESPN Insider Adam Caplan that Dalton will receive $22 million in the first six months of his deal. That reportedly includes a signing bonus and a roster bonus that equals $17 million, and that will be paid before the Bengals take the field in Thursday night's preseason opener at Kansas City. In all, Dalton stands to make $25 million through the first two years of his contract.

As Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn and other members of the front office have explained to reporters over the years, the franchise doesn't like front-loading too many contracts. You won't often see de-escalators in a Bengals contract, and you especially won't see them to the degree the 49ers crammed those into Colin Kaepernick's contract.

The Bengals also like to make sure a player's guaranteed money gets paid at the start of a deal. Just look at their most recent big contracts. Defensive tackle Domata Peko's base salary increases on the two-year extension he signed earlier this offseason, and his guaranteed money gets paid this season. Geno Atkins' base also increases year-to-year, and his guaranteed money was paid last summer in the form of a $15 million signing bonus. Carlos Dunlap's base also will steadily increase, and his $12 million guaranteed hit his pockets last summer when he signed, too.

In those respects, Dalton's deal follows the Bengals' pattern.

But where the franchise deviated with Dalton's deal is in the pay-to-play aspect of it. It has been reported that Dalton's contract has clauses that would essentially earn him bonuses based on where in the playoffs he leads the Bengals, and how much he plays per year. It's language similar to Kaepernick's controversial deal, and it's language that could allow Dalton to earn him anywhere from $96 million to $115 million over the life of the contract (that partially explains the $16 million and $19 million per year difference). Like Kaepernick and the 49ers, if the Bengals aren't pleased with Dalton's play after Year 2, this new deal reportedly allows them ways of getting rid of him each year.

But don't hold your breath on that happening. The sour ending to Carson Palmer's time in Cincinnati still lingers. They don't want to go through that again anytime soon.

Which leads us back to Green.

Veterans are valued by the loyal Bengals front office. Peko's extension is a clear example of that. But if the Bengals want to keep players like Green, Burfict and others, they soon may have to shift their thinking. Older players soon may not be as safe as they once were.

Soon there might not be enough money to go around for everybody.

Coley Harvey

ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter

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