Every so often, a player with multiple years left on his contract stays away from training camp. In rare instances, the absence lingers into the regular season. Most, however, end up showing up — often without anything other than a commitment from the team not to collect on the fines racked up during the absence.
With Falcons receiver Julio Jones, there’s a good chance it won’t play out that way. Jones seems to be a man of principle. Unhappy with a contract that pays him only $10.5 million this year (in comparison to the $30 million per year in new money paid to quarterback Matt Ryan), Jones has tried to get the team to rectify the situation.
Every step of the way, the team assumed that he was merely sending a message in 2018 about wanting a new deal in 2019. Eventually, the team reportedly told him that there will be no new deal this year, conveniently citing budgetary concerns. (“We don’t have the money in the budget to pay you” is a courteous way of saying, “We don’t want to pay the money.”)
If/when Jones doesn’t show up, the Falcons will need to make a decision. Do they continue to believe Jones is merely sending a message, or do they believe that he’d actually skip regular-season games without a new deal? Would he skip a full 10 weeks, allowing him to get credit for the contract year? Would he actually skip the full season?
Most would never do it. For Jones, who isn’t wired like most, the fact that he’s already gone this far suggests that maybe he would.
The best argument against giving him more money continues to be that tearing up his current contract with three years left on it sets a bad precedent. But that’s a red herring. To any player who tries to do the same in the future, the response would (should) be, “Perform like Julio Jones and then we’ll talk.”
The better approach would be to find a way to quickly craft a win-win that allows Jones to believe that the team has addressed his concerns in a meaningful way. Jones acting so out of character proves how much it means to Jones. Which indicates he won’t fold up the tents and return to the team simply because he’s getting nervous about the $40,000 per day fine, and because he’s hopeful that the team will agree to waive the amount due if he just shows up.