Folks, welcome to draft week. We hadn’t even hit Tuesday yet and the Atlanta Falcons already kickstarted the week with news of a potential trade of their franchise cornerstone wideout Julio Jones, according to Ian Rapaport.
There’s a lot to unpack, so let’s get right into the guts of what a potential move of Jones could mean for both the Falcons and this week’s NFL draft.
The NFL, as much as it is a platform as the highest level of football on the globe, serves as one of the harshest realities of the professional world. The NFL is a business, whatever way you want to look at it, and Jones has two new bosses.
The hiring of Terry Fontenot as general manager and Arthur Smith as head coach has ushered in a new era of football in Atlanta following its third consecutive season in which the team failed to make the playoffs. Tough times call for tough measures, and the trade of Jones could be warranted if Atlanta deems that the potential return on their All-Pro receiver could accelerate its path back to the top of the uber-competitive NFC South.
Entering his 11th season as the staple out wide for Matt Ryan, moving on from one of the league’s generational talents at pass-catcher doesn’t seem ideal. It just takes a glance back to last year to the Texans’ trade of DeAndre Hopkins to create an army of skeptics when entertaining a potential deal for Julio Jones… but this is different. Hopkins was 27 when he was traded from Houston to Arizona for a bag of chips and well wishes from Bill O’Brien. Jones is now on the bad side of 30 following a 2020 campaign that saw him appear in just nine games, the second-fewest appearances in a season in his career. And look, it’s Julio Jones we’re discussing, but if Fontenot and the Falcons’ brass are eyeing a move to kickoff their tenure in Atlanta, moving Jones would undoubtedly raise eyebrows—and would unquestionably, on paper, add a package of youth-infused talent to a roster in desperate need of exactly that. However, things become sticky when diving into the potential logistics of Jones’ departure.
Due to salary cap restrictions, where Jones is set for a dead cap hit of $23.25 million if traded, the all-world wideout contractually could not be moved until after June 1—the dead cap would then be $7.75 million in 2021 and $15.5 million in 2022. With that, additionally, Atlanta would be barred from including any draft picks this year due to the timing of the trade, a potential kicker in the deal. For the second-most expensive wideout in the league, at 32 years old, even with Ryan still under center, you begin to peek over the fence at the potential return if you're Fontenot, especially with Calvin Ridley and the fourth overall selection in your back pocket.
THEN there are the implications surrounding the draft. What if Jones is dealt before the Jaguars go on the clock? How does that affect not just Atlanta at No. 4, but the entire first round? Rumors have swirled surrounding the Falcons’ brain trust and their interest in trading back from the top five, but if a team in New England, Baltimore, or Tennessee were to come calling for Jones, could Atlanta see themselves in possession of two top-20 selections? In the deepest wideout class of recent memory post-Jones’, you see where there’s smoke to the fire here to Rapoport’s news.
Long story short, as a commonality that the annual draft process has developed into, organizations tend to throw out chum to see if there are biters—and as the week plays on, the blood begins to fade. But, when you dive into the meat of a potential deal for Jones, still one of the league’s premier talents on the outside, it’s more than just dust in the wind.
Atlanta, welcome to your rebuild, whether you like it or not.