If there was any dispute about the Falcons still wanting to trade expensive wide receiver Julio Jones this offseason, it should have been put to rest on Monday’s edition of FS1’s “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed.”
Jones, in a brief impromptu phone conversation with co-host Shannon Sharpe, leaked his true feelings on his status in Atlanta with four simple words: “I’m out of there.”
Jones also revealed two more bits of information: “I want to win” told us that he wants to play for a playoff contender. “I ain’t going to Dallas” added that there will be no alliteration combination with Jerry Jones and the Cowboys.
Given the late nature of his availability and the $15.3 million guaranteed he’s making for 2021 — including a current cap hit of $23 million — Julio Jones will be difficult to deal. That’s before getting to the fact that Jones is a 32-year-old star wideout coming off an injury-marred season.
When healthy, however, the seven-time Pro Bowler and surefire Pro Football Hall of Famer isn’t far removed from the receiver who won his second yardage title in 2018. His size (6-3, 220), strength, hands and speed still make him a dangerous all-around target.
The Cowboys didn’t make sense for Jones, anyway, locked in with Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup at his position. The Packers, Ravens and Titans all have enough wide receiver questions to be honorable mentions, but none of those teams can make affording his services work.
The Browns can accommodate Jones as an offensive luxury for Baker Mayfield, but they already are trying to get the best out of Odell Beckham Jr. long after trading for him. Taking those five contenders out of the equation, here are the four most realistic non-Falcons landing spots for Jones in 2021.
Julio Jones’ best trade fits
1. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have more than $17 million available under their salary cap, but that will drop to around $11 million once first-round quarterback Trey Lance and the rest of their drafted rookies are under contract. There will need to be some adjustments or restructuring to add Jones, but it’s possible.
San Francisco, a season removed from its 2019 NFC title run, has immediate appeal because of coach Kyle Shanahan, Jones’ former offensive coordinator in Atlanta when that team got to Super Bowl 51. Putting Jones with Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel — on top of tight end George Kittle, a strong offensive line and an elite running game — would raise an explosive 49ers offense to near unstoppable. That would be especially true if Lance gets to beat out Jimmy Garoppolo and bring his running dimension to the attack, too.
The 49ers, however, did give up a lot of future draft capital to get Lance, so their negotiations for a Jones deal would start with a second-round pick (which might be the right compensation, anyway). They would also be making the move with the short term in mind, looking for big immediate rewards. The 49ers don’t “need” Jones, but there’s good reason to want him.
2. New England Patriots
The Patriots reshuffled their receiving corps by signing wideouts Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor, the lesser acquisitions vs. the tight end splurges on Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. But with N’Keal Harry disappointing and Julian Edelman retired, there’s a void for a true No. 1 wide receiver for either Cam Newton or first-round rookie Mac Jones.
New England is headed to have around $12 million under the cap, a little more than San Francisco. It also has a history with Bill Belichick of making big moves for big-name veterans such as Jones when needed. Jones would open up and stretch the field to facilitate the rest of the pass-catchers on shorter routes.
3. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts restrained themselves from a wide receiver overhaul in the offseason, with T.Y. Hilton re-signed to stay in the mix with promising second-year man Michael Pittman Jr., Zach Pascal and injury-recovering speedster Parris Campbell. But they have a new quarterback, Carson Wentz, who is at his best having a reliable speedy field-stretcher. Jones and Wentz could form a new dynamic deep duo, helping to revive the latter’s career.
Indianapolis is looking at having around $18 million of available cap space and GM Chris Ballard has been willing to make big trades (see Wentz, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner). Getting Jones as the outside No. 1 would set up a good complementary group of receivers. He would also be the ideal play-action target for Wentz working off Jonathan Taylor’s strong running.
4. Los Angeles Chargers
Does Julio love L.A. and does he think catching passes from Justin Herbert can lead to the level of winning he prefers? That’s really the only question here, as the AFC Los Angeles team would be a great destination otherwise.
The Chargers, set to have more than $16 million left in cap space, can make it work, simliar to the Colts. They also didn’t think about addressing wide receiver away from Keenan Allen as much they should have for Year 2 of Herbert in a new offense. The Chargers also lost Henry’s physical receiving presence to the Patirots.
Jones and Allen together would be a difficult combination for any team to cover. Joe Lombardi would make good use of deploying Jones all over the field. Jones would be the appropriate lightning in the bottle so Herbert can enjoy a sophomore surge vs. a potential slump.
The Chargers are a good bet to steal an AFC wild card with new coach Brandon Staley. Adding a veteran difference-maker of Jones’ caliber would just enhance those chances.
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