AFC North Notes: Green, Mayfield, Big Ben

During the Bengals’ loss to the Cowboys on Sunday, receiver A.J. Green moved within one touchdown of Chad Johnson for the franchise’s all-time record. But while he was chasing that milestone on the field, his comments after the game might be more significant. Speaking to the media, Green made it “very clear” there’s a good chance he won’t be back in Cincy next year, Ben Baby of ESPN.com writes. “I love my time here,” Green said. “Who knows what is going to happen? I will be ready for anything and be excited to get back to playing football whether it is here or somewhere else.” It’s a stark shift in tone for Green, who has always insisted he envisioned himself playing his entire career with one team.

Green is in the midst of a disappointing season that was supposed to be a triumphant comeback for the former All-Pro after he missed all of 2019 with an ankle injury. Cincinnati placed the franchise tag on him this offseason to buy some time on making a long-term decision, but his production obviously hasn’t matched his price tag so far. There was speculation earlier this year that he wanted to be traded after his usage declined, although he publicly denied that. So far on the year Green has caught only 41 of 88 targets, racking up 419 yards and two touchdowns. Baby notes that Green’s tone has “drastically changed,” and it looks like we might be nearing the end of what was a legendary run with the Bengals. For many years in a row, the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft was one of the best wideouts in the game. Assuming he does explore his options on the open market this spring, at 32 and coming off multiple recent injury-plagued years, he likely won’t be getting any sort of big contract.

Here’s more from the AFC North:

  • Baker Mayfield had himself a night on Monday Night Football, even as the Browns fell to the Ravens. The former first overall pick has really turned it on recently, and Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com wrote even before last night’s game that the young quarterback was “playing himself into blockbuster extension territory in the offseason.” Kay Cabot writes that the coaching staff in Cleveland has grown convinced as the season has gone on that they’ve got their quarterback of the future, and that if he closes the season strong “he can expect to receive the blockbuster extension in the offseason.” It’s been a nice turnaround for the Oklahoma product, as his struggles early on in the year had many questioning whether he was the long-term answer for Kevin Stefanski. With his performances the last few weeks, he’s silenced most of the critics. He has only one interception in his last six games, and has the Browns on the verge of clinching a playoff berth. Mayfield is still under team control for two more seasons after this one, and Kay Cabot writes that at the very least the Browns will be exercising the fifth-year option in his contract for 2022 this offseason. It sounds like he’s about to get a whole lot more than that though.
  • Mayfield isn’t the only member of the Browns looking for an extension. Receiver Rashard Higgins is playing out the final year of his deal, and while Kay Cabot writes Cleveland will “likely” re-sign him, she also says nothing is imminent on that front. While she notes that players like Higgins are in a holding pattern as teams wait to see what the 2021 salary cap will look like, she also says he “will likely be wrapped up long-term.” The 2016 fifth-round pick had a huge touchdown on Monday night, and now has at least 65 yards in three of his past four games. His playing time has fluctuated through multiple different coaching staffs during his time with the team, and he had only four catches in ten games last year. But when given the opportunity he has usually delivered, like when he had 572 yards and four scores in 13 games in 2018. Now, it sounds like he might finally get rewarded after playing 2020 on a deal that paid him only $910K.
  • The Steelers have now lost back to back games, and Ben Roethlisberger has struggled mightily in both of them. Even before Sunday’s loss to the Bills, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports wrote that sources told him Roethlisberger’s lingering knee injury has “become a source of greater concern” within the organization. Interestingly, La Canfora reports that Roethlisberger’s close relationship with offensive coordinator Randy Fitchner “has been the cause of some worry” within the team. La Canfora notes that Big Ben is granted wide authority to change calls as he sees fit, and the implication seems to be that he has been checking out of runs too much and dictating the short passing game offense that has begun struggling mightily in recent weeks. Roethlisberger has now gone four straight games averaging 5.8 yards per attempt or fewer. The ground game still wasn’t able to get anything going against Buffalo, and if Roethlisberger’s knee issue turns out to be more serious than we’ve realized, this Steelers offense could be in permanent trouble. This will be a situation to monitor as the regular season draws to a close.
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20 comments on “AFC North Notes: Green, Mayfield, Big Ben

  1. letmeclearmythroat74

    Ben is washed up … he’s had a good run but it’s time to call it a day. Prior to losing to Washington and Buffalo , they hadn’t played anyone. Their opponents combined record carries a .300 winning % … no doubt they’d be undefeated. The Steelers are still an above a barrage team but they are highly overrated based on strength of schedule this year. This allowed Ben to look like the Quarterback messiah he once was. He’s not anymore. He looks like the tin man out there.

    • madmanTX

      Ben is still better than half the quarterbacks in the NFL with his arm and experience. Nobody mentions his receivers not being able to hang onto pinpoint passes from Ben. They have no running game either and have lost valuable guys on defense. Add to that a need to score TDs because they can’t trust their kicker to kick straight.

    • TJECK109

      Neither did the Chiefs but you never heard a word about them and their close games when they were 10-1. And the Steelers had a wider point differential. There was a 1 or 2 game difference between the teams the Steelers played and the teams the Chiefs played.

      • TJECK109

        Not to mention undefeated in a division that will likely have 3 teams in the playoffs.

      • letmeclearmythroat74

        This article wasn’t about the Chiefs … I agree but Pitt will be one and done. They won’t get past the Bills or Chiefs. Maybe not even the Titans or Dolphins.

    • Washed up? He’s got a 66% completion rate, 3,200 yards, 29 TDs (9 INT), and leads the league in attempts and completions. Only a year removed from a major injury. Half the league would love having him under center.

      • letmeclearmythroat74

        Nice stats against a schedule of teams with a .combined 300 winning % … I said he’s still above average but he’s not what he used to be. He looks old and showing his age

        • letmeclearmythroat74

          He was elite , now he’s Carr, Tannehill, Cousins, Rivers. I’m talking today Ben not 5 years ago Ben.

    • julyn82001

      Nah Ben is still the man! You can’t pretend or even think that you are going to win every game there is to play! What are the odds of that happening?

  2. jay13

    The last 2 games have definitely shown Big Ben is not 100%. What needs to happen is he needs to take a seat for a week or 2 and rest up. Be ready for the playoff push with a little rest. Let the Dobber play.

  3. JJB0811

    I hope the Bengals go out of their way for Green and try to get him the TD record. That’s a heck of a testament to his career.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Totally agree. It’s always tough watching a player who has been the face of the franchise lose the battle to father time.

    • Ak185

      Judging by how they dealt with their other franchise veterans this past year, I highly doubt that they do. I’d like to see it as well, but I don’t think that the current regime cares too much about that.

  4. markdavisbarber

    The Steelers got screwed with the Baltimore fiasco. Having to play 3 games in 12 days set up for a generic offensive game plan. The young WR’s went into ESPN high light reel mode and have forgotten how to catch a ball. Big Ben is older and would clearly benefit from a couple of days rest.

    Credit the team for taking the lumps and not being more vocal about the cards the NFL has dealt them.

  5. Kirk Nieuwenhuis For MVP

    Teams got wise to the fact that the Steelers have a 1-dimensional offense that can’t produce big plays or move the ball effectively on the ground.

  6. Ak185

    Yeah, I think it’s pretty obvious that teams have caught on to the Steelers’ limitations. It’s not that Ben isn’t the issue. The run game is nonexistant, and receivers are either struggling to get open or dropping passes. The offense is relying entirely on Ben to compensate, and when the options are that limited, it should not be a surprise that they would be able to take some away.

    The Steelers still have a chance to right the ship, but the very-injured o-line, running game, and receivers all need to step up. You just can’t rely on any QB throwing 40+ passes every game, much less one who is flirting with age 40 and coming off a major injury.

  7. ahale224

    For the record I’ve never met a nicer guy than AJ Green. Soft spoken, kind guy all 4 times I’ve had the pleasure. Happy to take pictures and sign anything you put in front of him. Wish him the best wherever he goes!

  8. 2012orioles

    People don’t realize how rare a qb like Big Ben is. You don’t just give up on them because the offense is struggling the past few weeks. And how many drops have there been, the line is injured and not playing well, no running game. That on top of weird week schedules and a tough team like the bills is not surprising they’ve been 0-2. That said, they need to get their act together. He’s still 38 yrs old, but he’s a darn good qb. I’ll never kick him out.Here we go Steelers!

    • letmeclearmythroat74

      He has been a great QB … but sadly he’s a “has been”. Make all the excuses you want about o-line , Running game , drops.. all teams struggle with that from time to time.

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