Falcons: What would the return look like in a potential Julio Jones trade?

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I briefly covered the report by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that Julio Jones is a potential trade piece this offseason. The basis of these reports is senseless. As I mentioned in the article, “The Falcons are currently still interviewing candidates for their vacant general manager position. This report seems to completely ignore the present fact that Atlanta has nobody in the wheelhouse to even initiate or entertain trades.” Without a general manager, the Falcons would be hard-pressed to properly advance in any trade negotiations. But Fowler is an ESPN insider with years of credibility, so I will entertain the idea of trading Julio Jones and explore possible returns for the All-Pro wideout.

Although Julio has been battling injuries for much of this season, there should be no durability concerns from potential buyers. Since entering the league in 2011, Julio has played all 16 games five times. Outside of the 2013 season’s foot fracture that kept Jones out 11 games, he has only missed six total games in the three other seasons. Disregarding the 2013 and 2020 seasons, Julio has played in 122 of 128 possible contests.

“But he has already missed six games this season!” Need proof the 31-year old is still relevant? Earlier this year, ESPN conducted a poll asking 50 league executives, coaches, scouts, and players to stack the top 10 players at each position. Julio Jones was voted the #1 receiver in the league, and it was not particularly close — more than half the voters selected Jones No. 1 overall.

“He’s an avatar,” an NFL coordinator said. “There’s only one of him.”

Julio Jones is a unicorn, and when healthy, he is still one of the most difficult receivers to guard. The basis for Atlanta to trade the best player in franchise history is linked to the shrinking salary cap and a new regime. Rebuilding is difficult when a receiver has a $23.05 million cap hit, which is what Jones is due in 2021. But this should not deter potential suitors for him, the price for Julio would be $26.8 million in straight cash over the next two years.

Atlanta has helped themselves in making him more appealing by paying his $25 million signing bonus in 2019 and an $11 million option bonus in 2020, which only leaves the new team to deal with the prorated payouts on their cap. With no penalty to walk away, $27 million for a two-year rental of a superstar will intrigue many, so let us consider potential destinations and returns for Julio.

First, we will roughly calculate the trade value of Julio by analyzing the recent trades of high profile receivers. There are five examples I have found that most resemble the situation Julio and the Falcons find themselves in. (In chronological order): Randy Moss to the Raiders, compensation: Napoleon Harris, No. 7 overall pick; Brandin Cooks (2x) to the Rams and Patriots, compensation: both received first-round picks; Amari Cooper to the Cowboys, compensation: first-round pick; Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns, compensation: Jabrill PeppersKevin Zeitler, first and third-round picks; Deandre Hopkins to the Cardinals, compensation: David Johnson, second and fourth-round picks.

Besides the Hopkins outlier, it is standard for someone of Julio’s stature to receive at least one first-round pick. When healthy, Julio is better than every aforementioned receiver — Randy Moss is the only one arguable. But he is currently older than all of them too, so I would hesitate to say he is worth more than them. At the very least, Jones will fetch a first-round pick, and hopefully, the return would be all draft capital too. I would say Julio is worth a first-round and a third-round pick.

Potential Suitors:

Miami Dolphins

Tua is the future, and he needs someone to throw to other than Davante Parker. Trading for Julio will give him a legit No. 1 receiving option, which will help him develop quicker. Miami also has a plethora of draft capital and could instead use their top five Houston pick on Penei Sewell to bolster the offensive line. (Plus: AFC team)

Indianapolis Colts

Regardless of who is under center next year in Indianapolis, the Colts need another wide receiver to take the pressure off T.Y. Hilton. Much like Miami, they are on the cusp of something great with a great defense and head coach. The Colts have as much cap room as anyone in the league and the draft capital to go along with it. (Plus: AFC team)

San Francisco 49ers

Besides the obvious connection between head coach Kyle Shannahan and Julio Jones, this might be the best fit. The 49ers are wondering when they will have steady quarterback play, so this could be a situation where Matt Ryan is included. For now, I will give you reasons for just Julio. Deebo Samuel, who is more of a gadget/Y-receiver, is the closest thing to a No.1 that they have. Julio would immediately be their clear-cut primary wide receiver, opening things up for Shannahan and Co. underneath. John Lynch is a wizard of a GM; this situation could get tricky. (Minus: NFC team)

New York Giants

The Giants’ situation is more similar to the 49ers than either of the others. With Big Play Slay, Golden TateSterling ShepardEvan Engram, and Saquon Barkley, the only thing missing? A star. Since the Odell trade, nobody in MetLife Stadium threatens defenses quite the same. Acquiring Julio will give management a much different experience of stars — going from OBJ to Julio — while also helping Daniel Jones develop. (Minus: NFC team)

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