There are two potential explanations for the sudden rash of reports regarding a potential Julio Jones trade. One, Peter King had it initially and exclusively in Football Morning in America and others used it as a springboard for their own reporting (without crediting King). Two, all three — King, Albert Breer of SI.com, and Ian Rapoport of NFL Media — had it simultaneously.
If it’s the latter, it’s entirely possible that the Falcons made a strategic decision to ignite a potential Julio Jones market at the outset of draft week. Teams with clear needs at the receiver position are now on notice that Jones is in play. Whether he’s tentatively traded before the draft, during the draft, or after the draft, the word is out. Jones can be had via an unofficial trade that becomes official on June 2.
Trading for Jones means inheriting a contract that pays out $15.3 million in 2021, $11.513 million in 2022, and $11.513 million in 2023. Even if Jones doesn’t want a new deal on his way through the door to a new team (and he might), that’s a significant obligation in a year with a shrunken cap, especially since Jones missed seven games due to injury in 2020.
King pegs a future second-round pick as “fair” for Jones. The Falcons somehow got a second-round pick for receiver Mohamed Sanu during the 2019 season. Whatever the compensation to the Falcons for Jones, the real question is whether the compensation to Jones will be sufficient to him, if the team trading for Jones is even a team for which he’s willing to play.
Simms and I spent some time on Monday’s PFT Live kicking around the dynamics. Three years ago, Jones made an aggressive push for a major new deal in Atlanta. His cash grab coupled with his 2020 decline possibly has caused the Falcons to sour on him, culminating in what may be a carefully crafted plan to try to entice a team to trade for Jones, freeing up $15.3 million in cash and cap obligations while kicking to next year the final $15.5 million cap charge on the Jones contract.
It won’t be easy to find a taker for Jones. Given the recent injury history and the magnitude of the contract, teams may not be lining up for a player who quite possibly is in decline.
There’s one extra fact that underscores the team’s apparent urgency to make a deal: Jones’ salary for 2021 is fully guaranteed. As a result, the Falcons can’t cut him without owing him the difference between $15.3 million and whatever he gets elsewhere. (I threw a dart suggesting he’d potentially be cut during PFT Live without checking the duration of the guarantees.) Thus, their only way out from under the contract is to trade him, with a post-June 1 move being the only way to work it out this year.
And that explains why the Falcons quite possibly have decided to make it widely known now that Jones could be had as the first order of draft-week business. Persuading someone to take on the balance of his contract in trade is the only way that the Falcons can currently avoid paying out a large chunk of it in 2021.