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A.J. Green is patiently waiting for his return from an offseason ankle injury that has snake-bitten his ninth season, but the Bengals star wideout will take solace from the sideline on Sunday as he watches his mentor Larry Fitzgerald.
"I always looked at Larry and his situation and how he handled things and wanted to model my game like his," Green told Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic. "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."
Green has seen better days in Cincinnati. The Bengals haven't produced a winning season since 2015, and having started 0-4 under first-year head coach Zac Taylor, this one is all but lost and trending toward an elementary rebuild. Couple in the fact that Green is in the final year of his current contract with the Bengals and the crossroads seem to lead toward an exit whether it be through free agency or trade.
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"Yeah, you always want that," Green said. "Nobody will ever value you more than the guys that drafted you. You want to leave a legacy. For him, he is the Arizona Cardinals legend. He can do anything he wants in the state of Arizona and people are going to stay behind him."
Green's relationship with Fitzgerald first began in 2010 when the Cardinals receiver visited the University of Georgia. They re-acquainted themselves the following year in Hawaii once Green made the Pro Bowl his rookie season.
"The impact is not just on the field, but the kind of guy he is," Green said about Fitzgerald. "He's not afraid to mentor the young guys ... it was awesome just to see that he knew who I was and humbling."
Green and Fitzgerald have been close ever since, and their careers have strangely shared similar distinctions. Both were top-four overall draft picks, both have played their entire careers for overlooked franchises, both have experienced losing seasons while putting up franchise-defining numbers, and both have been relatively drama-free at a position that regularly produces type-a personalities.
Green, 31, could still be a viable playmaker in his thirties. Fitzgerald, 36, has proved it can be done the past four years by averaging 99 receptions, 1,034 yards and 7 TDs in that span. With his ankle healing and a return nearing, Green has plenty of reason to show he can still produce by year's end. Where he's doing it may be the only question, but before the speculation develops, you won't have to look far on Sunday to find Green's guiding light.
"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."