I still think Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones is a good player. He is still big and strong, and I would still consider him an above-average route runner. The thing is, he’s not as fast as he was when he first entered the NFL 10 years ago. He was a better route runner back then, and he presented more of an intimidating presence for a defense. People that are talking about him in the same light as they did four or five years ago are misguided, because his tape does not show anything close to that.
So don’t expect teams to be lining up with generous trade offers for him.
I think the team that acquires Jones gets a solid player if he can stay on the field, but I think there are significant reasons to be skeptical about Jones’ ability to stay healthy for the duration of a season. He has dealt with numerous soft tissue injuries over the past couple of seasons, and he has been dealing with mounting foot and ankle ailments.
If I were running a team that was looking to acquire additional receiver talent, I would be very apprehensive in acquiring him, unless there was something significant that could alter his contract. He has three seasons left under his current contract with over $38 million remaining, including $17.3 million in remaining guarantees. I think it is a very realistic possibility that if a team trades for him, he only plays under this current deal for one more season. At that point, he will be 33 and will be due over $11 million in 2022. In that case, the acquiring team would be paying him over $17 million for one year of service. That is a massive one-year number for an aging player. If they elect to keep him for two seasons, they are paying him close to $27 million with no guarantee he lasts through either season.
If he is traded, and I believe he eventually will be, it should only be to a team that feels they are one upgrade at receiver away from a Super Bowl appearance. With a decent quarterback, I still think he can have a good season, but he would need to play 20-21 games for the acquisition to be worth it. With chronic ankle issues on an aging player, I find it very unlikely he can be a difference-making player for 20-plus games. With a player that seems to get hurt more and more over the past couple of seasons, I think there is close to a zero percent chance he is able to play a full season and enter the postseason as a healthy player. There is nothing that we have seen over the past couple of seasons to suggest that anything else is likely to happen.
If a team does trade for him, not only are they paying at least $17 million for what might only be one season of a descending Julio Jones, they are also giving up draft capital to acquire him. All these reasons make it very unlikely Atlanta is able to get the first-round pick they would like in return.
From the Falcons’ perspective, they are clearly willing to trade him. They realize that his ankle is probably never going to be 100% again, and that his current contract is not worth the player that he is now. Despite Atlanta’s claims that they were receiving multiple calls on Jones, it is clear they were the ones trying to facilitate something — as they have been since April, when he first informed them about his intentions to play elsewhere. The Falcons have been publicly marketing him for two months, so the notion that he killed his own trade value by speaking to Fox Sports last week is false. Every team is aware of his situation and that he is no longer content playing in Atlanta.
Based on his cost, I don’t think I would give up a second-round pick for Jones. Some team probably will, though. If by chance they can’t trade him, they are better off paying him than they are cutting him. Keeping him for one more season would cost Atlanta over $23 million against the cap in 2021 before dealing with over $17 million in dead cap charges the following season. Trading Jones this offseason would still cost the Falcons over $23 million against the cap. By waiting until after June 1, however, Atlanta would be allowed to push over $15 million of that dead cap into 2022, while only incurring a $7.75 million dead cap charge this season. Cutting Jones outright would leave Atlanta with over $40 million in dead cap charges.
Overall, Atlanta is in an undesired situation that they created for themselves when they extended him back in 2019. At the time, he still had two years left under contract, and his new extension pushed his annual value up to $22 million, even though the top receivers are still signing in the $18-20 million range. The Falcons are in a position where they might have to trade him for a player that holds very modest value or a draft pick that will not move the needle a ton. Jones just does not have a lot of interest. That does not mean no teams are interested or a trade will not happen, but you combine the age and health of the player with the salary he is due and with what the Falcons are seeking in a trade, I do not expect anything close to a massive offer from a team looking to acquire him.