It’s no secret the Falcons have an uphill battle with the salary cap this offseason. All the talking heads, me included, are adamant about Julio Jones and Matt Ryan being on the team next season due to their excessive cap hits. It just isn’t feasible to cut either of them. But, what about trading one of them?
Trading Matt Ryan would indicate a total overhaul of the roster, but moving Julio could benefit both him and the Falcons. Atlanta would have more breathing room this offseason, and Julio could find himself on a playoff-contending team. At the very least, Jones will fetch a first-round and a third-round pick — hopefully a starter too. Getting out from under one of their (Julio or Matt) contracts is critical this offseason, whichever the new regime chooses.
I explored the possibility of a trade involving Julio and the return Atlanta could get for him. Jake gave his opinion on why it isn’t the time to trade Julio, saying how low his value is right now, how irreplaceable he is, and how trading him before June 1st would result in a loss of $200,000. All of which is true, except for the June 1st loss. The language in a “Julio deal” could guarantee the partnering team in the trade be responsible for this dead cap.
I still see value in acquiring draft capital while simultaneously lowering the team’s salary cap figure. It’s true; nobody in this draft can replace Julio’s production on the field and his leadership off the field. But right now, it’s the exact scenario the new regime could ponder.
Sending Julio to a new home would leave a substantial vacancy in the wide receiver room, so it is important to restock via the draft instead of overpaying in free agency. With another loaded wide receiver class, what better time than now to draft Jones’ heir apparent? This is a deep class, but replacing Julio’s production will demand the Falcons’ first-round pick. So the question is, Ja’Marr Chase or DeVonta Smith?
Chase 2019 season: (14 games, 19 years old) 84 receptions, 1780 yards, 20 touchdowns;
Smith 2020 season: (13 games, 22 years old) 117 receptions, 1856 yards, 23 touchdowns;
In one less game, DeVonta Smith caught 33 more passes, for 76 more yards, and three more touchdowns. Smitty had an incredible year and deservedly won the Heisman Trophy, beating out his teammates — Mac Jones and Najee Harris. But, the Heisman trophy is a regular-season award and Ja’Marr Chase had a slightly better 2019 regular season than Smitty in 2020.
Chase 2019 regular season: (11 games, 19 years old) 70 receptions, 1457 yards, 17 touchdowns;
Smith 2020 regular season: (10 games, 22 years old) 83 receptions, 1327 yards, 15 touchdowns;
The statistics are so eerily similar, it’s almost a disservice to debate which is better when both are elite-caliber prospects. Both won the Biletnikoff Award for the most outstanding receiver in college football.
The two discrepancies between the two are their ages and supporting cast. Chase’s 2019 season is far more impressive than Smith’s 2020 because he was three years younger when he was dominating. Without Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith was the clear cut number one option for Mac Jones. While Chase competed for targets with Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall in 2019.
Jefferson had the best rookie season at wide receiver I have ever seen, and he was decidedly not the best receiver on LSU’s 2019 team. Whoever thinks DeVonta Smith is the best prospect doesn’t understand why someone who dominated at 19 is better than someone that dominated at 22.
I’m taking Chase all day, but as I said, both of these guys should go on to have fantastic pro careers and are worthy of the 4th overall selection. As I’ve talked about throughout the offseason, Jones isn’t somebody I’m keen on moving. It’s possible, but it’s not the direction I would go. However, if the Falcons aren’t interested in taking a quarterback, they could be put in a situation where they are looking for the best player available. Depending on how things shape up in front of them, that could be Chase or Smith.