With trade rumors circulating Julio Jones, some benefit from his departure from Atlanta — Russell Gage. Gage immediately moves up the depth chart as the team’s second receiver behind Calvin Ridley if Jones is shipped off. Each scenario — with and without Julio — results in wildly different roles for the former LSU Tiger in Arthur Smith’s offense.
Smith’s offense is much different than Dirk Koetters. This isn’t to speak poorly on Koetter, but to point out the subtle differences between what the Falcons did last year and could do differently this year. Last season, Atlanta deployed 11 personnel — one running back, one tight end, and three receivers — 61% of the total offensive plays, according to SharpFootballStats. That means there were plenty of opportunities for Gage to see the field as the third wideout and even more so when the team was without Jones. Koetter used 12 personnel — one running back, two tight ends, and two receivers — only 15% of the time in 2020. Assuming Julio was healthy, these snaps are still an insignificant percentage of the total offense for Gage to miss.
Now, how does that translate to Arthur Smith’s offense? It is drastically different. Smith’s Titans ran 38% of offensive snaps out of 11 personnel, compared to 35% out of 12 personnel. If trends were to continue in Atlanta, Gage’s role would be effectively be cut in half. Remember, this is entirely contingent on the status of Julio Jones, but Gage is still an ascending talent.
Last year, the former sixth-round pick set career highs in every major receiving statistic — 109 targets, 72 receptions, 786 yards, and four touchdowns. The absence of Julio resulted in the emergence of Gage. This isn’t me advocating for the trade by any means. The Falcons’ brass realizes the difficult position they’re in with the salary cap, which Fotnneot acknowledged as the only reason they’d ever trade Jones.
If he ends up playing in Atlanta this season, we could effectively see Gage phased out of the offense. If Fontenot and Smith know they’re keeping Jones, cutting or trading Gage could be the outcome to save some precious cap dollars. Regardless of when it’s done, trading or cutting him before or after June 1st results in a cap savings of $2.183 million — a $39K dead cap.
If a trade does come to fruition, Gage could see his role expand even more than it did last year. The fact of the matter remains that Smith used more two tight end sets than 30 other teams — Eagles and Titans 35% of plays out of 12 personnel is tied for the most in the league. If Julio is kept, Gage may be on the way out; if Julio is traded, Gage could be a 1,000-yard receiver in 2021.