Don't Be Shocked If the Atlanta Falcons Trade Julio Jones

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The Atlanta Falcons are the most intriguing team in the NFL Draft if only because they have the most valuable pick among organizations whose plans are not painfully clear. The Jaguars, Jets, and 49ers all figure to go all-in on quarterbacks out of the gate, meaning if someone wants to trade up and get Justin Fields, they'll have to offer an attractive package. We've been hammering on this point for awhile and the event horizon has only become more vast with the passing of time and new speculation.

One newish intriguing possibility comes via the creative mind of NBC Sports' Peter King, who writes in today's Football Morning in America column:

Surprises? Keep an eye on Atlanta. I can’t predict any bombshells. But a few things would not surprise me. Most notably, the Falcons putting the framework of a trade together for star wideout Julio Jones, and making the trade effective June 2. That way, Atlanta could split Jones’ cap charge between 2021 and 2022 instead of getting bashed with it all this year. So if such a trade happens, I expect it could involve a future pick or picks, nothing this year. (A future second-round pick as compensation seems fair to me.) Because such a trade wouldn’t be official till June, no picks in this draft could be involved. As for the interested team or teams, I would guess Las Vegas; Jon Gruden couldn’t resist Antonio Brown, and I doubt he could resist Julio Jones. New England too, and a couple of teams with clear receiver needs—Tennessee and Baltimore.

Now, the Falcons don’t really want to trade Julio Jones. He’s a franchise legend. But he’s 32, entering his 11th season, coming off a banged-up year with seven games missed due to injury, and the Falcons are in cap jail. If they could off-load his money and cushion it by splitting it between this year ($7.75 million) and next ($15.5 million), Atlanta’s cap charge on Jones this year goes down by a tad more than $15 million.

That would certainly be something. "Putting framework together" sounds like it would entail already picking up the phone and entertaining offers. Which happens a lot this time of year, but is still notable.

Jones played only nine games due to injury last season but was still able to snag 51 balls for 771 yards. He had a slight dip in production in 2019, but for him that's still 99 grabs and 92.9 yards per contest. Back 2018 he led the NFL with 1,677 receiving yards. There are still a handful years of production left in those hands and there would surely be a long list of competitors lining up to bring him into the fold, as he creates a whole new dimension in the passing game.

The most intriguing team in the draft just got even more intriguing. Although, if Falcons fans wanted a clue as to whether the organization is looking to rebuild or reload, moving Jones doesn't exactly signal a desire to compete right now.