The Atlanta Falcons are trying to trade star wideout Julio Jones. This surprising news was first floated by Peter King over at NBC before this year's NFL Draft, and the noise has only increased since. Today, The Athletic's Falcons reporter, Jeff Schultz, essentially made it official by reporting the team is actively trying to trade Jones and have been since new GM Terry Fontenot and new HC Arthur Smith arrived:
The Falcons would like to trade Julio Jones. That doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent that it’s going to happen. That doesn’t mean some members of the organization don’t believe the future Hall of Famer can still play, when healthy. But Jones’ availability on the trade market has been clear almost from the time new general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith landed in Atlanta and realized the extent of the team’s salary-cap problems.
Schultz laid out all the appropriate caveats there. Just because Atlanta wants to doesn't mean they will. If the right trade doesn't materialize, Jones will be a Falcon again and everyone will go on their way.
But the possibility of a player like Jones hitting the trade market is always intriguing. His downsides are simple and twofold: he gets hurt a lot, and his contract is huge. If the Falcons trade Jones, they're on the hook for a $40 million dead cap hit. That is somehow more than the Carson Wentz dead cap the Eagles get to eat this year. It' s a huge number, but as King noted in his report from April, the Falcons can spread out that hit over two years if they trade him after June 2. The next few weeks leading up to that date are when the trade talks are going to heat up.
If a team does acquire Jones from the Falcons, they're getting a perennial All-Pro receiver who had 51 catches for 771 yards in only nine games last season and led the NFL in total receiving yards and yards per game just two years ago. They will also be taking on a cap hit of $23 million this year and $19 million next year before 2022, when Jones can be released for only a $7.75 million dead cap hit. It's a lot of money and cap space to invest in a player who has played all 16 games only four times in 10 years. But he's also Julio Jones. So there will be interest.
Here are four possible landing spots for the superstar receiver.
New England Patriots
The Patriots still dearly need a receiver. They spent a lot of their money and cap space on various receiving options to reload, but the best of those (Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry) are tight ends. Right now the top two receivers for Cam Newton/Mac Jones are Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. That isn't going to cut it for a team with playoff hopes. It would take some restructuring for Bill Belichick to bring Jones in, but it would be worth giving up a mid-round draft pick and some money to do so. If Jones is healthy, the offense would be dangerous at all three levels of the field. No better way to uncover the old version of Newton or make for an easy transition into NFL life for Jones.
The Colts have taken on the Carson Wentz redemption project. One of the bigger obstacles present in that endeavor is the lack of a top-flight receiving option. T.Y. Hilton isn't really that guy anymore (only 1,263 yards in the last two seasons combined) and their other wideouts, like Michael Pittman and Zach Paschal, are middling at best at this stage in their careers. This is an issue that plagued Wentz over his final few seasons in Philadelphia and fixing it should be a priority for Indy. What makes this the most realistic destination is that the Colts still have about $20 million in cap space left, so absorbing Jones' deal would be far easier than it would be for most other teams. But GM Chris Ballard is a cautious man, and Jones does not come without his red flags.
The Ravens need a No. 1 wideout for Lamar Jackson. He's a good but not yet great throwing QB and getting a reliable wideout who will be open at all three levels of the field would do wonders for the MVP's development. Baltimore did pick Rashod Bateman in the first round of the draft this year but that obviously should not stop them from getting Jones if they could. He'd form a dangerous duo with Marquise Brown and Jackson should have a lot easier time scrambling if the defense has to split their attention between him and Jones. The Ravens decided to go the cheap route at the position by drafting Bateman instead of investing in a free agent option, but Jones is too good to pass up if a deal could be made.
San Franciso 49ers
Julio Jones back in Kyle Shanahan's offense is a dream scenario for both players. Whether it's Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance starting under center, Jones would be a boon and give the Niners the kind of receiver they haven't had in a long time. We know Shanahan can make something out of nothing after last year's injury-riddled season left him with low draft picks and undrafted players at skill positions. We also know what he can do with a talent like Jones. John Lynch would love to make the trade. The problem would be that the Niners are in no position to be offering up picks to trade after mortgaging their short-term future in the trade-up to pick Lance in this year's draft. If the Falcons are amendable to a mid-round pick next year and an average but younger defensive player, a deal can be made here and the Niners are suddenly that much more dangerous.