The Atlanta Falcons sit at a crucial spot in the 2021 NFL Draft, with the No. 4 overall pick generating plenty of buzz as a potential trade-up spot for quarterback-needy teams. But even if the Falcons keep the pick, another blockbuster deal might be on the horizon.
Atlanta is widely expected to drafted tight end Kyle Pitts if it stays at No. 4, with head coach Arthur Smith placing an emphasis on adding a playmaker to this offense. Suddenly, the Falcons’ offense would have Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Pitts surrounding Matt Ryan to create one of the league’s most explosive aerial attacks.
But Jones’s days in Atlanta might be drawing to a close. After hearing his name floated in trade rumors for several months, there are increasing signs pointing toward a blockbuster deal in the very near future.
Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer wrote that a Julio Jones trade wouldn’t surprise him later this offseason. The Falcons are listening to efforts, with the idea of a deal clearing cap space, and there are signs something could happen. Furthermore, NBC Sports’ Peter King said a framework for a trade could be made during the 2021 NFL Draft.
It’s important to note, any deal wouldn’t be official until this summer. By making the move a post-June 1 trade, it would help soften the blow of the salary-cap ramifications for Atlanta. Given Atlanta is currently just $950,000 under the salary cap, not enough to sign their draft class, financial considerations must be considered with every decision.
Let’s take a quick look at a few potential landing spots for a Julio Jones trade.
Julio Jones traded to Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens and Falcons aren’t strangers. Just a year ago, Baltimore traded tight end Hayden Hurst to Atlanta for second- and fifth-round picks. While the Falcons are now under a new regime, this still stands out as both a realistic landing spot and a potential match for two clubs with very different needs.
Baltimore is currently just $13 million under the salary cap, but there are ways for them to create more room. Most importantly, this team desperately needs a No. 1 wide receiver to help support Lamar Jackson. While it’s possible the position could be addressed with one of the club’s first-round picks, it also needs to draft edge rushers and must upgrade the offensive line.
The Ravens could send Atlanta a 2022 second-round pick and a conditional 2023 fifth-round pick, which becomes a fourth-round selection if Baltimore reaches the Super Bowl in 2022 or 2023. Jones remains a gifted receiver, but the 32-year-old has durability concerns and soft-tissue injuries have plagued him in recent years. For the Falcons, while moving Jones would be difficult, they could still have Pitts and Calvin Ridley.
New England Patriots swing blockbuster trade
Bill Belichick has been aggressive this spring, to say the least. He made Jonnu Smith one of the highest-paid tight ends in the NFL then signed Hunter Henry to a similar contract. The Patriots are also expected to be in the quarterback market during the NFL Draft, potentially moving into the top-10 picks.
All of those moves are great, but New England still doesn’t have a high-end wide receiver. The Patriots need someone who can win one-on-one matchups against top cornerbacks, Jones often beats double teams. Putting him out wide in 12 personnel would really make this a dangerous passing attack. With Cam Newton fully recovered from COVID-19 and surrounded by a far better supporting cast, this team could contend in 2021.
As for the potential cost, dealing a 2022 second-round pick is an option. If Belichick wants to spread out the compensation, the Patriots could offer their 2022 and 2023 third-round picks. They have the necessary cap room to absorb Jones’s contract and landing an elite playmaker is worth the cost of future Day 2 picks.
Tennessee Titans make surprise Julio Jones trade
When most think about the Tennessee Titans offense, they visualize Derrick Henry. It’s true that this team loves feeding the football to the most powerful running back in the NFL, but this passing attack always flies under the radar. Ryan Tannehill made big things happen in 2020 with A.J. Brown, Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis. Heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, Brown is the only one left.
Tennessee is in the market for a wide receiver, someone who could pair nicely with Brown on the outside. Many assumed that need would be addressed with a rookie, keeping Brown in that No. 1 role. But after losing two key weapons, the Titans would be better off adding the best talent possible. Putting Jones on the field with Henry and Brown would make this one of the NFL’s best offenses.