The Atlanta Falcons had one of the better showings in the 2015 NFL draft. But now their focus is on shoring up the wide receiver position for the long term. Team general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s next offseason priority is to figure out a new contract for receiver Julio Jones.
ESPN’s Vaughn McClure reports that the Falcons and Jones’ agent, Jimmy Sexton, have not yet engaged in contract talks, but that may all change in the coming weeks, with Dimitroff ready to get a new contract worked out between the team and their star receiver. Dimitroff told ESPN on Monday that, “There is no question that our focus in the future will be on Julio Jones and where we are.”
Jones, a two-time Pro Bowler, has amassed 278 catches for 4,350 yards and 26 touchdowns in four seasons with the Falcons. Though Atlanta won just six games last year, Jones had one of the better seasons of his career, with 104 catches, 1,593 yards and six touchdowns. He is earning $10.176 million in 2015 as the Falcons chose last season to exercise his fifth-year contract option.
Dimitroff was clear that the Falcons’ long-term success depends on Jones being in the fold, saying to ESPN:
I don’t want to get into specifics about the timing of that, obviously. But now that the draft is over and we continue to build this football team, we understand that Julio is a very important part of our building and evolving as a championship-type team.
Locking up Jones, potentially to a lucrative deal that could even rival that given to the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson ($16 million per year), does present some risks, particularly from an injury standpoint. Jones suffered a fractured right foot prior to the 2011 draft that he re-injured in Week 5 of the 2013 season, costing him the rest of the year.
But Dimitroff is not concerned about Jones’ foot. When asked about it by ESPN, he brushed it off entirely, saying, “That’s not my concern right now. That’s not my concern, period.” This at least seems to indicate that Jones’ foot does not trump what he can provide the Falcons on the field nor that it should factor into the contract offer given him by Atlanta.
The Falcons are wise to turn their attention to locking down Jones for the long term. It’s not just that he’s in the final year of his contract that has put him atop Dimitroff’s offseason priority list, but also that he’s one of the NFL’s most productive receivers. It wasn’t long ago that the Falcons were a play away from a Super Bowl appearance; to get back to that point, Jones must be a part of the roster. Now, it’s just a matter of time before he gets the kind of payday he deserves—one that Dimitroff seems more than willing to give him.
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