After 10 seasons, 135 games, nearly 13,000 yards, and 60 touchdowns, Julio Jones is out of Atlanta, with the Falcons trading him to the Titans.
Atlanta is starting a new era under General Manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith. But there are plenty of players still on the roster who know what Jones meant to the team.
Receiver Russell Gage is one of them. Heading into his fourth season, Gage has become an impact player. He recorded 72 receptions for 786 yards and four touchdowns in 2020. But when he heard Jones was on his way to Nashville, it sprung up some emotion.
“It was kind of sad,” Gage said during a Tuesday interview on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football, via Kevin Patara. “I learned so much from him from when I first arrived in Atlanta. I think I’ve learned more from him than in a few years than I learned in my whole career. Julio is such a impacter, such a huge playmaker. He’s going to be a legend. Probably going to be a Hall of Famer. I couldn’t learn more from anybody. He’s a great person. I think he’s elevated everyone’s game, everyone around him, whether you’re offense or defense. You watch the separation, you watch the way he prepares for the game, just everything. I’m extremely grateful to have played alongside somebody like that. It’s something that’s going to always stick with me.”
Despite Jones’ departure, Gage feels the Falcons have plenty of depth at receiver with a group led by Calvin Ridley. But Gage also knows replacing Jones’ production isn’t a one-man job.
“[Smith has] told me he’s impressed with what I’m able to do and things I’m able to contribute to. Obvious, third down was a big role for me last year and that’s something that’s not going to change,” Gage said. “With Julio gone, there’s gonna be some of that load that needs to be put on me. It’s not just me, it’s the whole receiving staff. … All of us are gonna have to help fill Julio because that’s such a big shoe to fill.”
A 2018 sixth-round pick, Gage has 127 receptions for 1,295 yards with five TDs in three seasons.