Despite the Kyle Pitts selection giving the Falcons the chance to pair him with Julio Jones and emerging standout Calvin Ridley, the team’s cap situation may be at a point where this trio will never take the field together. The Jones trade buzz is not going away.
Jones remains available, according to The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz, who notes the Falcons would like to trade the future Hall of Fame wideout (subscription required). Although the 32-year-old wideout made the Pro Bowl each season from 2014-19 and missed four total games during that span, he is signed to a receiver-record contract and missed seven games in 2020. New GM Terry Fontenot confirmed the Falcons are listening to offers on their all-time great.
The Falcons have made a number of restructures this offseason — from Deion Jones to Jake Matthews to Matt Ryan, with Schultz adding the team did not want to restructure its quarterback’s deal — but still have less than $500K in cap space. Atlanta obviously needs to sign its draft class, and although losing Jones for that purpose would mark a sobering conclusion to his Falcons run, the team views only he and Grady Jarrett as candidates to fix its cap problem, Schultz adds. The Falcons, however, want to keep Jarrett long-term; 10 years may be it for Jones in Atlanta.
The Thomas Dimitroff regime gave Jones his $22MM-per-year extension during the same summer Jarrett received his payday. Jarrett has two seasons left on his deal; Jones has three. A Jones restructure is not out of the question, but that would mean the Falcons moving a lot of money into Jones’ age-33 season and beyond. Atlanta, per Schultz, does not want to go this route, one that would involve considerably more dead money down the line. It is a non-starter for the Falcons to move Jones before June 1, but were they to trade him after that date, they would create more than $15MM in cap space.
Numerous teams could use Jones, but most would need to carve out cap space to absorb his $15.3MM salary. Some expect teams to ask the Falcons to eat a portion of Jones’ salary to help facilitate a trade, per Schultz, who also notes the Titans have come up as a potential suitor. Tennessee has a noticeable hole at receiver opposite A.J. Brown, with Corey Davis heading to New York, but the team has barely $3MM in cap space before its top draft salaries are accounted for. A first-round pick is not expected in a Jones deal, though Ian Rapoport of NFL.com would not expect Fontenot to move Jones unless a strong offer emerges (video link via the Pat McAfee Show).
Losing Jones would certainly affect the Falcons, who can count the seven-time Pro Bowler as a top-three player (comfortably) in franchise history. From 2014-19, Jones amassed 9,388 receiving yards — the most in a six-season span in NFL annals. But the Falcons’ new regime does not appear to view 2021 as a season in which Super Bowl contention is realistic, Schultz notes. Atlanta hopes to benefit from a bidding war involving teams that do.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.