Last offseason, the Falcons shipped their All-Pro receiver to the Tennessee Titans for a 2022 second-round pick (LB Troy Andersen) and a 2023 fourth-round pick.
The Falcons offloaded his contract but absorbed dead-cap hits of $7.75 million in 2021 and $15.5 million in 2022. Combine that with the $40.5 million in dead money this year from the Matt Ryan trade, and the Falcons are operating with limited funds as they start their rebuild.
However, the question still creeps around among Falcons circles — should we bring the best receiver in franchise history back for one final run?
The trade that shocked Falcons fans last offseason was bubbling under the surface for many years prior.
In 2015, Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons agreed to a 5-year/$71 million contract that made him the second-highest paid wideout in the league (behind only Calvin Johnson).
By 2018, Jones was asking for a market-correction contract since other receivers had recently signed bigger deals with higher yearly averages. The Falcons obliged with a pay bump in 2018 and a promise to negotiate a new contract in 2019.
The Falcons delivered on their promise, signing Jones to a 3-year/$66 million extension. That took him from his original $14M/year salary to $22M/year, guaranteeing him $64 million at signing.
Unfortunately, Jones still wasn’t happy. After being disgruntled with his contract for three years straight, Julio was now upset with how long the Falcons took to agree to a deal.
Apparently, his representatives suggested in 2018 that if the Falcons couldn’t negotiate a deal in a timely manner, Julio would prefer to be traded.
Look, I’m a Julio guy, but that’s a little ridiculous. He dangled a trade demand over the front office’s head for three years. The front office caved and gave him a team-detrimental contract, and then he demanded a trade anyway.
I understand the Falcons had fallen from grace after the game that shall not be mentioned, but play out the (3!) contracts you demanded.
I don’t blame Julio for wanting to leave at all, I just blame him for how he left.
Should Atlanta Pursue Julio Jones in Free Agency?
Despite all the nonsense I just listed, it’s worth analyzing whether or not the Falcons should try to bring Julio back.
Is there interest on his end? I doubt it. However, he might be quickly running out of options.
There’s speculation that Julio is simply waiting to sign somewhere until after training camp so that he can let his body heal. It’s not the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. He’s 33-years-old and posted 31 receptions, 434 yards, and a single touchdown with the Titans last year. While he did start 10 games, lingering injuries prevented him from ever being a viable threat on the field.
If waiting out the offseason is the only reason Julio hasn’t signed anywhere, then he’ll probably have the pick of the litter come August.
I don’t think that’s the case.
NFL execs approach free agent signings from an unbiased perspective, which is not great for Julio. He’s a 33-year-old wide receiver that can’t stay on the field and commands top-dollar contracts. That’s not typically a piece of a winning puzzle.
Julio will have to come down on his asking price and shift roles for the next team he plays for — he’s no longer a WR1, but is perhaps the best WR2 on the market. Not to mention, the intelligence and poise he brings to the table would do wonders for any locker room.
So should the Falcons be that suitor? You might think it makes sense. He built his career here and the fans adore him.
Unfortunately, the answer is absolutely not.
It’s time for Falcons fans to let go of the 2016 team. Matt Ryan and 95% of that roster are elsewhere. Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot have a new direction for this team, but it’s going to take time to really build. Bringing in Julio Jones would only be a setback to those plans.
Plus, it’s likely that Julio did not buy into the regime change and probably doesn’t want to be here regardless.
The thought of Julio Jones in red and black is a fond one, but one that’s better as a memory.