Overreaction Tuesday: Should the Falcons trade Julio Jones?

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Before readers dismiss this idea because they think it is clickbait, read the entirety of the article and digest my reasoning. I wrote an overreaction piece after week one on the possibility of replacing both Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff. In hindsight, it is not such an overreaction now as Quinn is all but guaranteed to be fired after surrendering two 15-point leads in the fourth quarter. This week, I am going to continue to ruffle some feathers by making the case to trade Julio Jones.

I am not a Falcons fan, but I can give credit where credit is due regardless of the individual, and Julio deserves mighty high praise. He has only missed 18 games throughout his career, now in his tenth season. Jones holds essentially every major Falcon’s receiving record and has done so being the quietest superstar in the league. At a position where theatrics are expected, Julio is a consummate professional. So even though he missed the last game, he is still incredibly reliable and undoubtedly a top-five receiver in the league when healthy.

I acknowledge that Julio is still as capable as ever and must point out that this article does not question his ability whatsoever. Still, I want to bring attention to the possibility and benefits of departing from Julio.

Beginning with the monetary analysis, Julio’s massive contract accounts for over 10% of the Falcons’ cap this year, which leads the team. With the inevitable drop in the future salary cap, organizations will be scrambling to avoid league-mandated penalties for violating the cap. Punishments for a team breaching the salary cap or floor can result in fines up to $5 million per violation, cancellation of contracts, and potentially the loss of draft picks. Entering 2021, Atlanta is expected to be in one of the worst salary cap situations in the NFL, $40+ million over the cap limit.

Trading Julio Jones can cut a sizeable chunk off the Falcons’ payroll. Strictly assuming the trade would be in exchange for draft picks, the team has the potential to save over $11 million. If Julio is traded post-6/1, the 2020 cap savings and dead cap would be $11.2 million and $9.2 million. Getting out of that massive contract would provide immediate relief.

Moving on from the financial rationale, we look to the personnel for more justification. Calvin Ridley has now shown that teams must respect him as no. 1 wide receiver. He is second to only Deandre Hopkins in the league for total receiving yards and is as well rounded of a receiver as anyone in the league. Ridley is already one of the best route runners in the NFL, threatens to score with every reception, and looks to be as consistent of a leader as Julio. He is ready to become the team’s featured receiver but is not alone in climbing the ladder.

Russell Gage has the team’s trust as his role in the offense is continuing to grow. He is currently listed as the no. 3 behind Jones and Ridley but has the second-most targets on the team. His consistent growth should have the front office salivating at the potential future production. 160 yards through two weeks, in which he left one game early, is enough proof for me to believe he is capable of a no. 2s’ expectations.

The final point in favor of trading Julio is the return. Keyshawn Johnson, Joey Galloway, Amari Cooper, Stefon Diggs, and OBJ were all traded for at least one first-round draft pick. They all included a combination of multiple draft picks and starters. Although he is in his thirties, Julio is still more productive than any of the aforementioned names before their respective trades. Therefore, moving him would garner immense draft capital that is sorely needed in Atlanta.  

The Falcons are in an unenviable position in which they must navigate the shrinking salary cap, and the best way to do so is through home-grown rookies. To put it into perspective, Stefon Diggs was traded for a first, fourth, fifth, and sixth-round draft pick. Julio would be worth that and some. I could see a team like the Jets, who are in desperate need to give Sam Darnold a receiving threat, overpaying for a veteran like Julio. Imagine saving over $11 million while simultaneously receiving a first, second, fourth, and fifth-round draft pick.

This would be a home run for Atlanta. Decreasing their salary cap number, all while replenishing the roster with cheaper talent. Trading Julio would be a sad day for the Falcons’ franchise, but he deserves better and will not get it in Atlanta. Departing would give him a fresh start while giving the team flexibility to replace expensive talent with economical rookies.

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