Tuesday on the NFL Network’s Total Access, Steve Wyche confirmed the Falcons are still taking calls pertaining to trade conversations surrounding Julio Jones. The words of the front office and coaching staff have been followed by action. Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith want to compete immediately; they’ve said it on multiple occasions. With the first pick of their tenure, the two went with Kyle Pitts, which points towards just that… competing immediately.
But usually, Fontenot will preface comments about competing immediately by hedging, saying they won’t sacrifice the team’s future to win now. The two different points of view in this conversation seem counterintuitive. If you keep Julio, you’re competing but not without risking the future. If you don’t keep Julio, you’re less competitive but become more financially flexible moving forward and can possibly allocate those funds elsewhere — receiver isn’t a position lacking talent with Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage under contract. Remaining competitive is always the goal, but if the offer is good enough, there’s no way Fontenot would refuse and swallow the bloated contract. But what offer is good enough?
It’s important to note the financials of the contract before any compensation is mentioned. Currently, there are three years left on the All-Pro’s deal, which would carry a dead cap figure of $7,750,000 every year until his contract ends with a post-June 1st designation for the Falcons — saving the franchise $15,300,000 against the cap this year and $11,513,000 for the subsequent two years. If a team were to acquire Jones without any contractual amendments, they’d be on the hook to pay him $38,326,000 over a three-year period — $15,300,000 this year and $11,513,000 the following two years.
From the Falcons standpoint, that is an incredibly reasonable price for a guy who has averaged over 95 yards a game in his career — a bargain for contending teams. From the other side of the table, that’s a steep price to pay for an aging receiver who missed seven games in 2020. Because prying Julio will cost considerable draft capital, a team must be willing to accept parting ways with a high draft pick and taking on his costly contract.
Many Falcons fans wouldn’t consider anything less than a first-round pick for Julio Jones, and I might agree with them, but you’re only worth what someone is willing to pay you. There can be contingencies put in place, such as provisions on pick placement — “if the pick is top 20, trade reverts to a second-round pick and includes a third-round pick.” I would say a top-20 protected pick that changes to a second and third-round pick if the trade partner doesn’t make the playoffs is a reasonable offer.
There are also other ways to get around any obstacles in negotiations. Carolina absorbed a portion of Teddy Bridgewater‘s contract to finalize a deal with Denver, and Fontenot could strike a similar agreement. This route wouldn’t save the kind of money the Falcons are looking for in a trade involving Julio Jones, so I wouldn’t expect this to happen.
Trading Julio Jones will hurt the city of Atlanta as much as any heartbreaking loss has, but the possibility is still there. It doesn’t make sense to commit to Matt Ryan and attempt to win now, then go ahead and trade away one of the team’s best players. I think the compensation offered won’t be enough to get Fontneot to move the eventual Hall of Fame wideout, but that doesn’t mean he’s not listening. Much like the fourth pick, the trade offer must blow the Falcons out of the water, which I believe will have to be a first-round selection.
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