Julio Jones and His Contract Are Not Worth a First-Round Pick

Liam McKeone
Julio Jones
Julio Jones / Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

We've got a new report on the Julio Jones trade saga, courtesy of ESPN's Dianna Russini. Talks have accelerated since Jones said on live television that he was "outta there" and insider reports revealed that the All-Pro receiver had asked for a trade, instead of the team merely looking into the possibility. Russini said this morning that the Falcons have had discussions with several teams already, including one who would be willing to offer a future first-round pick.

Atlanta lost some leverage in negotiations when Jones told the world on Undisputed that he wanted a trade because, prior to Shannon Sharpe's surprise call, the public assumption was that the Falcons would trade him for the right offer but would be fine keeping him around if the asking price wasn't met. Clearly there is still a lot of interest in the superstar wideout, even with that knowledge.

But any team offering a first-rounder for Jones' services would be making a mistake. The talent is absolutely not the question here. He has nearly a decade of elite production and has a strong case for best receiver in the league when he's healthy, even now on the wrong side of 30. Legitimate game-breakers are hard to find and Jones certainly qualifies.

There are red flags, though, that should force anybody to be wary about giving up a first-rounder for Jones. The biggest is his health. It's the only aspect of Jones' career that has prevented him from becoming one of the most dominant receivers the league has ever seen. Even when Jones plays, he's often banged up. Lately, he's been fairly healthy-- before he missed seven games in 2020, he had only been held out of four games combined in the previous seven seasons. What's most concerning is the vast majority of the injuries he's suffered have been to his lower body. He's had 13 recorded injuries to his right foot and eight to his left thigh. Those types of injuries are obviously quite bad for receivers, who need those extremities more than other positions to make cuts and hit top speed.

Any team could talk themselves into sending a first-rounder for a player of Jones' talent even with that injury history. We've seen it happen before. A fully-healthy Julio Jones is one of the best players in the NFL and even a banged-up Jones is better than many organization's top wideout. It's when you pair that in tandem with his onerous contract that it becomes very fair to question if a first-round pick is too much to pay.

Jones has a cap hit of $23 million in 2021. Only 10 other players in the entire league will have a bigger cap hit next year. He'll count more against a potential new team's cap sheet than Matthew Stafford will for the Rams or Dak Prescott will for the Cowboys. There are ways to get around that, of course; this offseason has proven more than any other that things like cap hits can be reconfigured with no limit other than an organization's creativity. But it's still a lot of money for a guy whose ability to be 100 percent at all times is in serious question.

A first-round pick guarantees five years of contract control at a reasonable rate. There's no guarantee a team will pick a player they want to keep around for those five years or if the player will play well enough to justify the draft spot. But giving up on that possibility entirely for Jones, his big contract, and history of lower-body injuries? It's just not smart. A second-rounder, sure. But a first-round pick is the most valuable future asset in football. Teams need to be careful doling those out. With Jones, there are plenty of warning signs suggesting it would be a mistake to do so here.