Peter King of NBC Sports is one of the most plugged-in national reports the NFL media has. When he speaks, people tend to listen. He has been harping on the sense he gets from the Falcons about trading away Julio Jones, and in his latest Football Morning in America column, King said, “I’d call it 60-40 that Julio Jones is traded by Labor Day.”
Julio’s $23.05 million cap hit for 2021 is the only cause for Terry Fontenot fielding trade calls as the team can save $15.3 million by trading him after June 1, per Spotrac. Arthur Smith ran more two-tight end sets in the league last year and third-most three tight end sets. Smith’s Titans ran 38% of offensive snaps out of 11 personnel, compared to 35% out of 12 personnel. Essentially, shipping Jones off isn’t going to be as big of a deal in 2021 as it would’ve in years past. Last season, Atlanta deployed 11 personnel — one running back, one tight end, and three receivers — 61% of the total offensive plays, according to SharpFootballStats.
Smith’s offense uses tight ends more so than wide receivers, given the flexibility it gives him. It would still be a massive loss for the Falcons, but now more thane ever, the team is in a position to cushion the blow of Jones leaving with Russell Gage and Calvin Ridley’s emergence. Below are a few scenarios I talked about before the draft:
The AFC North is shaping up to be one of the toughest divisions in football, and Eric DeCosta has $15 million in cap space to improve the Ravens roster. Just about every analyst or expert has Baltimore drafting a wideout with one of their first-round picks, 27th or 31st — the latter received from Kansas City in the Orlando Brown Jr. trade. DeCosta has pushed the narrative that he likes the wide receiver group they have. Still, there’s no denying the effort made in free agency to improve the weapons around Lamar Jackson being unsuccessful. As far as a scheme fit, Jones going to a run-centric offense like Greg Roman’s doesn’t make much sense. However, the Ravens have plenty of draft capital and cap space to make a trade happen, as well as being the best place in this article for Jones to add a championship to his already-Hall of Fame résumé.
Chris Ballard has been one of the best drafting general managers in the league, relying on developing in-house talent rather than acquiring it through free agency or via trades. Although, he did make two uncharacteristic blockbuster trades, acquiring Carson Wentz and DeForest Buckner, so a Julio Jones trade is possible. Of the 2020 playoff teams, no franchise is in a more favorable position to take on Jones’ salary than the Colts — they have $22.4 million in cap space, most of the league’s 14 playoff teams from last season. Putting Jones opposite T.Y. Hilton and Michael Pittman Jr. would give Wentz a premier pass catcher, a deep threat, and a dangerous third option. Given how productive Frank Reich‘s run game is, this transaction would shorten the gap between other elite offenses in the NFL — Chiefs, Packers, Bills, etc.
New York Jets
Out of all these destinations, the Jets are the furthest away from a championship, but New York has the cap space to absorb Jones’ deal as well as the draft capital to offer a convincing trade. One formula to win now is to surround a quarterback on a rookie deal with established offensive weapons and a strong offensive line. With Zach Wilson the presumptive pick, Mike LaFleur would be overjoyed to have Julio Jones back in the same offense from 2016. The Jets might be more than just one player away from competing, but this would launch New York’s offense into at least threatening defenses.
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