Back in 2011, after being drafted sixth overall, Julio Jones signed a four-year rookie deal worth $16.2 million. He has since signed two more extensions, one in 2015 that was worth $71.3 million over five years, and then a second one, which is causing the headaches for the Falcons today. In September of 2019, the Falcons and Jones agreed to a massive extension — with two years left on his current deal — worth $66 million over three additional years, and it was fully guaranteed.
He deserved it, given he was the 13th highest-paid wide receiver after just leading the league in receiving yards. Still, the deal’s structure made it so that Arthur Blank’s “Falcon for life” comment would become a reality because it would be nearly impossible to get out from under without incurring a sizeable dead cap charge in the future.
Tori McElhaney of The Athletic wrote an interesting piece into this notion from Blank that Julio would retire in Atlanta. “The relationship hasn’t been the same since contentious contract negotiations in 2019, which resulted in a three-year, $66 million extension just before the start of the season. Jones sat out of training camp in 2018 before the Falcons adjusted his contract and considered doing the same in 2019 before Blank assured him he’d get a new deal. One source said it was much more difficult to negotiate that deal than the one Jones signed in 2015. Negotiations work best, the source said, when they can be win-win situations. Both sides believed they lost in this one.”
It’s clear there were promises made and not fulfilled by one of the parties, but it’s unclear what exactly soured the relationship between Jones and Blank. The most recent extension had a $25 million signing bonus, $64 million guaranteed at signing, and an $11 million option bonus that was due last year — bringing his total compensation to $125.3 million over his 10-year career. He’s due $23.1 million against the Falcons’ 2021 salary cap, with his guaranteed figure at $15.3 million, $5 million as a prorated signing bonus, and $2.75 million as the prorated option bonus.
Mike Conti suggested he could potentially be cut, but there has to be less than a percent chance that happens because even if the Falcons released Jones as a post-June 1 transaction to limit dead money in 2021, his cap hit would be higher this year than it already is. By designating it as a post-June 1 cut, the remaining $10 million prorated signing bonus and $5.5 million prorated option bonus wouldn’t be realized on the 2021 salary cap. Atlanta would have to account for the $2 million in guaranteed money for 2022, so the dead cap would rise to $25.1 million, and the Falcons would have a remaining $15.5 million in dead money on their salary cap in 2022.
The turmoil of cutting one of the franchise’s greatest players would be considered a massive failure for the first-year regime, but more than likely, it’ll be a trade post-June 1 because moving him before that date would save the Falcons no salary cap space in 2021. It’s the only realistic option (there’s ever been), which would clear the $15.3 million in guaranteed salary and leave $7.75 million in dead money on the Falcons’ salary cap in 2021. A team trading for Jones on his current salary would take on the $15.3 million in 2021 and $2 million in guaranteed 2022 salary, but that team could release him ahead of 2022 and only be left with that $2 million in dead money — essentially, a $17.3 million one-year deal. If they decided to keep him, that team would owe Jones a salary of $11.5 million in both 2022 and 2023, which would bring the total owed to $38.3 million over three years.
A potential trade partner may ask the Falcons to absorb a portion of his contract, but it would only be for a couple million, I assume. The $2 million guaranteed in 2022 seems like a good starting point in negotiations for Atlanta to take on some of his salary. Still, the main goal is to create cap space for the Falcons, so it could be a deal-breaker for Terry Fontenot if the draft capital isn’t overwhelming.