The Atlanta Falcons’ decision to make Kyle Pitts the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history last week could have some wide-ranging ramifications. Primarily, rumors continue to persist that seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones could be traded after June 1.
We recently focused on why Atlanta would have to wait about a month before moving the future Hall of Fame pass-catcher. In short, it’s all about the team’s lackluster salary cap situation and the fact that said move would save it a ton of money this season.
As for a potential trade of Jones, there’s a growing sentiment around league circles that it’s now more likely than ever that he is moved this offseason. That includes Peter King of NBC Sports after a recent conversation with new Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot.
“The one other thing I left there with is that I don’t think because Julio Jones wasn’t traded on draft weekend, I don’t think that means that he won’t be traded,” King reported recently. “And in fact, I’d say it’s better than 50-50 that he will be traded before training camp begins.”
This is the clearest indication yet that Fontenot and Co. are prepared to move off one of the greatest wide receivers in modern NFL history.
Prior to dealing with multiple lower-body injuries that cost him all but seven games this past season, Jones was the single-most productive receiver in the NFL. From 2014-19, the 32-year-old veteran averaged 104 receptions for 1,564 yards.
So why would the Atlanta Falcons trade Julio Jones?
It makes sense from both a financial and on-field aspect. In addition to drafting Kyle Pitts and picking up the 2022 option on last season’s leading receiver, Calvin Ridley, the Falcons were left in salary cap hell following the firing of former general manager Thomas Dimitroff last season.
Atlanta currently finds itself just $2.1 million under the cap and has not signed a single member of its 2021 NFL Draft class. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Grady Jarrett and Jake Matthews are slated to count a combined $83-plus million against the cap this coming season. By trading the star receiver, the Atlanta Falcons would save $15.3 million against said cap.
From an on-field perspective, Pitts and Ridley are going to be the two skill-position players to lead the Falcons moving forward under new head coach Arthur Smith. Why not give them a chance to shine with Ryan under center in 2021? After all, these Falcons are nothing more than bottom-end playoff contenders this season. Acquiring future draft assets for Jones might make the most sense.
Most realistic landing spots for Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones
A lot of this is complicated by the $15.3 million Jones would cost against the cap for an acquiring team. At this point in the offseason, very few organizations have that type of money to spend. Add in the downtick in the 2021 NFL salary cap due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that’s magnified further.
Among those currently in the top-10 when it comes to cap room, the Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets could make sense. Indy still needs to find that true No. 1 receiver for the recently-acquired Carson Wentz. Meanwhile, New York adding Jones to the mix for rookie No. 2 pick Zach Wilson would be ideal. New York is especially interesting in that first-year offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur worked with Jones in Atlanta back in 2015 and 2016.
No Julio Jones rumor can go fulfilled unless the San Francisco 49ers are mentioned as a possibility due to his built-in relationship with former Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. San Francisco’s decision to avoid wide receiver in the NFL Draft for the first time in 18 years could also act as a harbinger of things to come. With that said, the financial component might not make sense for the 49ers here.
Among those who have a need at wide receiver and have not been afraid to pull off blockbusters in the past, the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders should also be talked about as potential trade options.
Either way, this certainly is something to keep an eye on heading into the start of training camps in late July.