I've argued that the 49ers should pursue trades for New York Jets star safety Jamal Adams and Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku. The latter certainly would be accomplished the easiest of the two, though the former is worth the extra trouble.
I stand by both of those arguments as each player would be an upgrade over what San Francisco already has, while both are young and still have bright futures ahead of them. Though he surely is quite talented, the same cannot be said of Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green.
Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox recently listed the one personnel move he believes each NFL team should make before the start of the 2020 season, and a trade for Green is precisely what he recommended for the 49ers. That is one big-name player, however, that San Francisco has very little reason to consider.
For starters, time simply is not on Green's side. Unlike Adams and Njoku, who both will be 24 years of age when the season starts, Green will be 32. Then there's the matter of availability. Unlike Adams and Njoku, Green has quite a long injury history, posting only two full seasons in the last six, while missing 29 games over the last four. That number includes the 16 games he missed last season while sitting out the entirety of the campaign.
Both of those matters could be easily overlooked for the purposes of this coming season -- if not for one major deterrent. As Knox pointed out, the 49ers could have a major need at receiver, depending on the health of Deebo Samuel.
"Though the recently oft-injured Green may no longer be the elite pass-catcher he once was, he could be the sort of reliable and consistent veteran San Francisco had in Emmanuel Sanders over the second half of 2019," Knox wrote. "Adding Green would give quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a go-to target in clutch situations. It would also provide insurance for second-year wideout Deebo Samuel, who suffered a foot injury while training this offseason."
[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]
If only it were that simple.
That aforementioned deterrent is a financial one. Green will make nearly $17.9 million on the franchise tag this coming season, a salary San Francisco couldn't absorb without shedding a significant amount of other expenses. Not to mention, the 49ers have to leave open the possibility that they might have to use the franchise tag on George Kittle.
And that's just for this coming season.
Green reportedly doesn't want to play on the franchise tag, and the Cincinnati Enquirer's Tyler Dragon reported in December that he wants to be paid like "one of the best receivers in the NFL." Obviously, that would mean a significant, long-term financial commitment, which the 49ers can't realistically offer him. Assuming Kittle is re-signed to a lucrative contract extension, they have nowhere near that kind of room in the salary cap moving forward to be able to pay Green what he is seeking.
A.J. Green isn't asking for Julio Jones money (three years, $66M), but he does want to be paid like one of the best receivers in the NFL. Green said he believes he still has four to five elite years left. #Bengals— Tyler Dragon (@TheTylerDragon) December 18, 2019
And that's another area where the potential pursuits of Green and Adams differ. San Francisco is led by one of the brightest offensive minds in the game. Coach Kyle Shanahan is a luxury in the respect that he is able to get more out of his offensive weapons by scheming them open, which is why you don't see any large salaries -- Kittle aside -- at San Francisco's skill positions.
Shanahan, though, doesn't have nearly as much impact on the defensive execution. He is more reliant on the talent of the personnel on that side of the ball, which is why the 49ers have paid large annual sums for the likes of Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander and Richard Sherman. Adams would help in an area that Shanahan cannot.
Green could be extremely effective in Shanahan's system, but it would be fiscally irresponsible to a tremendous degree to funnel the team's remaining resources to an aging receiver who might not be any better than what San Francisco already has at this point. Not to mention, the cost it would take to acquire Green from the Bengals.
They had every opportunity to trade him last season, when they surely would have received a massive haul in return. Cincinnati then invested the No. 1 overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft on quarterback Joe Burrow, whose transition surely would be aided by having a veteran receiver like Green to throw to. So, it seems highly unlikely that any team could acquire him on the cheap.
If San Francisco is going to invest both draft and financial capital in a difference-maker, it needs to be on someone who is a certainty to both improve the odds on and extend the current championship window. Green doesn't check either of those boxes for the 49ers, which is why they're extremely unlikely to do what it would take to acquire him.