The Julio Jones saga has reached a conclusion. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, the Falcons have agreed to trade Jones to the Titans in exchange for a 2022 second-round pick (Twitter link). Atlanta will also get the Titans’ fourth-round pick in 2023, though it will need to send its 2023 sixth-round choice to Tennessee. Both clubs subsequently announced the trade.
Once it became clear that Jones was going to be dealt, Tennessee always seemed like one of the most logical landing spots. The club lost WR Corey Davis and TE Jonnu Smith in free agency, and while the Titans’ offense will continue to flow through running back Derrick Henry, it seemed imperative for GM Jon Robinson to add another pass catcher.
Now, Jones will team with A.J. Brown to form a potentially dynamic 1-2 punch at the wide receiver position. And the Titans will not have to give up a ton to make that a reality. Though the Falcons were said to have an offer in hand that included a first-round pick, subsequent reports expressed skepticism that Atlanta would be able to get that type of compensation unless the hypothetical first-rounder was part of a pick-swap, similar to the return that the Ravens received from the Chiefs in the Orlando Brown Jr. trade.
Jones’ age (32) and sizable contract limited the Falcons’ leverage, as did the fact that Atlanta’s dire cap situation — the club had $446K in cap space before the trade and has yet to sign its draft picks — essentially compelled the team to rid itself of Jones’ salary. Plus, the seven-time Pro Bowler is coming off an injury-marred 2020 campaign in which he appeared in only nine games.
However, the Falcons were able to convince the Titans to assume the entirety of Jones’ contract. As Albert Breer of SI.com tweets, Atlanta is not absorbing any of Jones’ $15.3MM base salary for 2021, so Robinson will have some work to do to get Jones on the books. That could include a new contract for the newest Titan, which was rumored as a possibility last week. Indeed, Paul Kuharsky of PaulKuharsky.com reports that Jones and the Titans are presently discussing contract alterations (Twitter link).
Robinson could also approach quarterback Ryan Tannehill about a restructure. We heard just two days ago that Tannehill and the team had not discussed such a possibility, but it seems that the QB would be receptive to a reworked contract that converts some of his base salary into a signing bonus, especially since it would help facilitate Jones’ arrival.
Assuming he’s fully healthy, Jones should fit nicely into the Titans’ play-action-heavy offense. As Brown’s primary foil, he could thrive on in-breaking routes, and he still has enough straight-line speed to keep defenses honest. His presence makes Tennessee’s aerial attack a formidable one, though the club will have to demonstrate a marked improvement on the defensive side of the ball to have a legitimate chance at a title.
For the Falcons, this move represents the end of an era. One of the greatest receivers of his generation, Jones now holds franchise records in receptions (848) and receiving yards (12,896), and his 60 receiving TDs trail only Roddy White‘s 63. Those receiving yards currently rank 20th on the NFL’s all-time list, but Jones could catapult into the top-5 with several solid seasons in Tennessee.
Atlanta opted against drafting a successor for aging QB Matt Ryan, instead using its No. 4 selection on Florida TE Kyle Pitts, presumably in the hopes of making one final run at glory with Ryan under center. Between Pitts and Calvin Ridley, Ryan will still have several quality receiving options at his disposal, but losing Jones will put a major damper on any hopes the Falcons had for competing in 2021.
Dianna Russini of ESPN.com first reported that the Falcons and Titans were expected to finalize a trade that would send Jones to Tennessee within the next 24-48 hours (Twitter link). Adam Schefter of ESPN.com added (via Twitter) that the two clubs were still discussing whether the trade package would include a second- and fifth-rounder going back to Atlanta, or if the Falcons would get a second-rounder and swap other picks with the Titans.
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