As they seek to rebound from an ugly loss to the Jets last week, the Titans will see the return of one of their top playmakers. As Turron Davenport of ESPN.com writes, wide receiver A.J. Brown — who missed the matchup with the Jets due to a hamstring injury — was a full participant in practice this week and will suit up for this afternoon’s divisional bout against the Jaguars.
“A.J. has worked hard and progressed to the point where based off of what he did today we can expect him to play on Sunday,” head coach Mike Vrabel said.
Brown sustained the hamstring injury in the first quarter of Tennessee’s Week 3 victory over the Colts, and he failed to record a catch during his brief time on the field. For the season, he has been targeted 19 times but has recorded just seven catches for 92 yards and a score.
The news is not as good for marquee trade acquisition Julio Jones, Brown’s running mate at wide receiver. Like Brown, Jones suffered a hamstring injury in the Titans’ Week 3 contest, but he has now missed two consecutive weeks of practice and will be unable to play against Jacksonville today. He remains Tennessee’s leading receiver, having posted 12 catches for 204 yards this year, though he has yet to find the endzone for his new club.
Despite the loss to the previously winless Jets, the Titans remain atop the weak AFC South with a 2-2 record.
FRIDAY: The Titans will not have their top receivers available against the Jets. They ruled out Brown and Jones for Week 4. Neither player practiced this week.
WEDNESDAY: Julio Jones and A.J. Brown might not face the Jets on Sunday. Jones is receiving treatment for a leg injury while Brown may miss a week or two with a hamstring injury (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport).
Jones, one of the greatest receivers of his generation, set Falcons franchise records in receptions (848) and receiving yards (12,896). On top of that, his 60 receiving touchdowns trailed only Roddy White‘s 63. He’s already given the Titans one vintage performance, a six-catch, 128-yard outing against the Seahawks in Week 2. Through three games, Jones has notched 12 catches for 204 yards.
Brown turned in one of the better rookie WR years in recent memory and followed it up with a strong 2020 encore. Last year, Brown finished out with 70 grabs for 1,075 yards and eleven touchdowns en route to his first Pro Bowl. So far, he’s got seven grabs for 92 yards and one score, though his Week 3 game was effectively wiped out by the hamstring issue.
September 7th, 2021 at 10:32am CST by Zachary Links
The Titans have restructured Julio Jones‘ contract, according to ESPN.com’s Field Yates (on Twitter). The new deal will convert $14MM of his salary into a signing bonus, creating $11.2MM in cap room. To make it all work, Jones’ contract will also have two additional void years.
In June, the Titans shipped a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 fourth-round pick to the Falcons for Jones and a 2023 sixth-round pick. It was a far cry from the Falcons’ initial ask of a first-round pick, but that was the best they could do given Jones’ age (32) and contract. For the Titans, it was a monumental upgrade to bring one of the game’s most accomplished wide receivers to Nashville.
Unlike other suitors — like the Chiefs — the Titans were able to absorb his $15.3MM base salary for 2021. Still, they needed some extra space to make mid-season upgrades and Jones has obliged. For all intents and purposes, everything remains the same on Jones’ end.
Jones, one of the greatest receivers of his generation, holds Falcons franchise records in receptions (848) and receiving yards (12,896). On top of that, his 60 receiving TDs trail only Roddy White‘s 63. Now, he’ll look to add to his lofty totals with the Titans.
The 49ers were in the mix for Julio Jones, which would have reunited the All-Pro wide receiver with his former offensive coordinator. But Kyle Shanahan‘s team is not believed to have made a firm offer for the 10-year veteran, whom the Titans ended up acquiring. All four NFC West teams discussed Jones with the Falcons, and Shanahan — after losing out onMatthew Stafford when the Rams landed him — said he would have been more willing to part with higher-end assets if he believed the Rams were a true threat to land him.
“That’s actually the most frustrating thing for me,” Shanahan said during his appearance on The Ringer’s Flying Coach podcast with Sean McVay and Peter Schrager (via RamsWire). “I always say, ‘Let’s do it the right way,’ which, there’s no right way or wrong way, but you don’t want to have to risk your future to compete in one year. And that’s the hardest thing about being in our division because I know how Sean rolls. That’s very similar to me. Julio would have helped everybody, but you know what it’s doing to your organization for that year and the years to come.
“That’s a really risky thing, but man, if Sean’s getting him, I’m going to risk that. I know that’s how he thinks, that’s how we all think. You’ve got to compete with your division first.”
The Rams are frequently linked to big trades, having made a few since relocating, but the team’s Robert Woods–Cooper Kupp–DeSean Jackson–Tutu Atwell wideout depth chart would have made Jones quite the expensive luxury. Here is more out of San Francisco:
Another for the “what if?” file: the 49ers did some thorough investigating on Mac Jones. Linked to the Alabama prospect up until draft day, the 49ers reached out to Jones’ high school quarterbacks coach — Kevin Fagan (not the ex-49ers D-lineman) — according to Jeff Howe of The Athletic (subscription required). Jones and Lance became San Francisco’s final two candidates for their No. 3 overall pick, after the team traded two future first-round picks for the purposes of landing a QB at 3, but the team opted to go with the North Dakota State product.
The 49ers are eyeing a slot role forJalen Hurd, if the former third-round pick can make it to the regular season — something the 2019 draftee has yet to do. As a bigger slot cog, at 230 pounds, Hurd sharing some tight end responsibilities in Shanahan’s scheme may well be on tap, according to The Athletic’s Matt Barrows and David Lombardi. Hurd and former seventh-round pick Jauan Jennings are candidates for this hybrid position. This would be a way for the 49ers not to carry four true tight ends. A former running back at Tennessee who later transferred to Baylor and played wide receiver, Hurd missed his entire rookie season with a back injury and suffered an ACL tear last summer. Jennings, a Hurd teammate at Tennessee before the latter’s transfer, also has yet to play an NFL snap.
Julio Jones trade rumors first surfaced because the Falcons identified his contract as a way to create much-needed cap space, but later reports indicated the decorated receiver requested a trade out of Atlanta in March. Traded to the Titans for a package headlined by a second-round pick, Jones described his Falcons divorce as mutual.
“We discussed everything. We just made the decision,” Jones said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It was just cut and dry. There was nothing toward football; it’s business. So, you just had to accept whatever happens, happens. Like I said, it was a mutual agreement on it. We just split up.”
The 32-year-old wide receiver built a Hall of Fame resume in Georgia and, for a bit this spring, was slated to team with Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts. But this reality never appeared to be on the table. Jones did, in fact, request a trade in March, Ledbetter adds. The All-Pro target said his Atlanta exit did not come about because of the team’s transition from the Dan Quinn era to an Arthur Smith-led staff. The Titans agreed to take on all of Jones’ $15.3MM guaranteed 2021 salary, separating them from the rest of the trade suitors.
Here is the latest wide receiver news from around the league:
Odell Beckham Jr. skipped much of the Browns‘ 2019 offseason program and did not work out with Baker Mayfield during the COVID-19-marred 2020 offseason. Beckham was rehabbing an offseason surgery at that point. Despite having torn an ACL Oct. 25 of last year, OBJ joined Jarvis Landry in working out with Mayfield in Austin this week, Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal notes. Landry confirmed Beckham was running routes at Mayfield’s workouts, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. A lack of chemistry between Beckham and Mayfield has been evident during their 1 1/2 seasons together; extra reps should help ahead of a key season for the former Pro Bowl wide receiver. The Browns, who have seen many veterans stay away from OTAs, will convene for minicamp next week.
Kadarius Toneyalso avoided his team’s OTAs, skipping the Giants‘ pre-minicamp workouts. The first-round pick doing so surprised the team, Dan Duggan of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Toney did not sign his rookie contract until last week but had inked a waiver to protect himself in case of an injury during OTAs. Rookies often work out with their teams before signing their deals. Toney’s four-year, $13.7MM contract is fully guaranteed.
Shortly after the Giants selected Toney 20th overall, Joe Judge called Sterling Shepard to discuss his future with the team, per Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News. “I thought it was necessary to talk to Shep specifically because when we drafted Toney, the word in the press as he was reading those headlines was specifically he’s a slot receiver,” Judge said. “Which, look, we are not bringing in someone to play one position. I thought it was relevant at the time to contact Shep out of respect for how he is with our program to communicate that with him.” Shepard is the longest-tenured Giant, arriving during the Jerry Reese regime. Although Shepard is signed through 2023, the Giants can create more than $6MM in cap space by moving on from him next year. The sixth-year veteran is expected to play more in the slot, following Kenny Golladay‘s arrival, after working there a career-low 34% of the time in 2020.
Although Kyle Shanahan coached Jones for two seasons in Atlanta, the San Francisco HC pointed to his team’s draft capital — heavily impacted by April’s Trey Lancetrade-up — as a reason why Jones ended up in Tennessee. The 49ers discussed Jones with the Falcons but are not believed to have made a firm offer.
“Everyone knows we don’t have a first-round pick,” Shanahan said of the 49ers’ 2022 draft arsenal, via 49ersWebZone.com. “But what happens when you don’t have a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick, and you lose a number of guys in free agency, which you never can for sure count on? Then you end up going into a draft, and you’ve got to get six new spots, but all you have is a third- and a fifth-round pick. It’s kind of tough to build your team that way and to consistently do it.”
The 49ers have indeed been trigger-happy with pick-for-player trades in recent years. Prior to unloading their 2022 and ’23 first-rounders to move up nine spots for Lance, the team traded third- and fourth-round picks for Emmanuel Sanders at the 2019 trade deadline and shipped third- and fifth-round picks for Trent Williams last April. They did go the other way in 2020 as well, acquiring a first-round pick for DeForest Buckner. But the Lance move ranks as one of the priciest trades in draft history. It will affect how the 49ers proceed going forward.
Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are set to reprise their roles as the 49ers’ starting wideouts this coming season. They did not play together often in 2020. Jones will team with A.J. Brown to comprise a flashier Titans receiving duo, but tandem is unlikely to be together for too long. Jones being 32 also appears to have played a part in the 49ers not competing with the Titans for him.
“Everyone knows the player [Jones] is, but it’s not as simple as that,” Shanahan said. “You’ve got to build a team. It’s not just year to year. You’ve got to build it for the future. … He’s going to definitely help Tennessee. And everyone knows how special he is, but you’ve got to think about the short-term and the long-term, and that’s why those things are so risky for everybody.”
San Francisco is on track to use lower-profile players alongside Samuel and Aiyuk. The team re-signed ex-Jones sidekick Mohamed Sanu and has veteran Travis Benjamin and former first-round pick Kevin White on its roster. Former Broncos wideout DaeSean Hamiltonnearly became a 49er, in a trade that would have cost less than a Jones swap, but his ACL tear scuttled that transaction.
The Falcons spoke with several teams on Jones, though offers were scarce. At various points in this process, the team discussed the All-Pro wide receiver with every NFC West franchise. The Cardinals are a new entrant in this derby, but Albert Breer of SI.com notes neither they nor their NFC West rivals sent the Falcons firm offers.
The Titans initially proposed sending the Falcons a conditional third-rounder that could become a second, Breer adds, but Atlanta had Tennessee’s proposal of a second-rounder sans conditions on the table for a bit. Sunday-morning negotiations that ended with the teams agreeing to exchange later-round picks finalized the deal, according to King.
Tennessee’s willingness to absorb Jones’ $15.3MM guaranteed salary also outflanked other suitors, per Breer, who notes the Falcons were not interested in eating part of Jones’ 2021 salary in order to sweeten trade compensation. No first-round pick was offered, Breer notes, though at one point a first did come up as part of a potential pick swap.
A Jones-Falcons divorce first surfaced around draft time, and it became a deal framed around the new Falcons regime receiving cap relief. Given the salary component in these talks, that certainly is a key reason why Jones is Nashville-bound. But this separation began when Jones and the Falcons negotiated his wideout-record three-year, $66MM extension. Jones lobbied the Falcons for a new deal after the 2017 season; the Falcons refused and ended up making minor adjustments to his previous contract in 2018. The future Hall of Famer pursued the matter again in 2019. While the sides hammered out an agreement, the months-long negotiations — which ended with a Sept. 7 accord — took a toll on both parties. Jones communicated to the Falcons he wanted out in March.
Although the Ravens pursued several receivers this offseason and signed Sammy Watkins, their Jones interest ceased after the draft. Baltimore using first- and fourth-round picks on wideouts — Rashod Batemanand Tylan Wallace— ended its talks with its former division rival. Finances scuttled Seahawks involvement, King notes, adding the Patriots were also not serious players in this chase.
It sounds like the Falcons are preparing for a pricey Calvin Ridley extension. The 2018 first-round pick is now eligible for a new deal, and the Falcons are preparing for that expensive re-up, per Breer, by getting the Jones contract off their books. Though Atlanta is still eating some dead money from this trade, the team has some time on a Ridley extension. The Falcons picked up his fifth-year option in May, locking up Ridley through 2022.
A truly blockbuster NFL trade went down this morning, and we’re continuing to cover all the Julio Jones fallout. Most recently, Titans GM Jon Robinson spoke to the media to address his team’s new shiny acquisition. The following nuggets come courtesy of Jim Wyatt of the team’s official site on Twitter.
Interestingly, Robinson revealed the Titans have been in pursuit of the former Falcons star for a while. Robinson said Tennessee had been going back and forth with Atlanta for a few weeks, but things really picked up yesterday.
It sounds like some financial shuffling is about to take place, as Robinson said the Titans plan to restructure a contract or contracts to fit Jones’ big deal on their books.
Robinson emphasized that he spoke to current players on the team, and they were all enthusiastic about the prospect of adding Jones. He also added that he consulted with Nick Saban, Jones’ college coach at Alabama, who spoke very highly of him.
For Titans fans wondering about other potential additions to the offense, Robinson said the team is continuing to monitor the tight end market after losing Jonnu Smith in free agency.
After letting Smith and Corey Davis walk, it initially looked like Tennessee was going to have a pretty underwhelming group of pass-catchers outside of A.J. Brown, but Ryan Tannehill can’t complain anymore.
The Chiefs were “never truly in” the Julio Jones sweepstakes, according to Peter Schrager of NFL.com (on Twitter). Like every team in the league, the Chiefs would have loved to have him, but it just didn’t make sense financially. Instead, Jones is en route to the Titans, who landed him on Sunday morning.
The Titans shipped a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 fourth-round pick to the Falcons for Jones. Meanwhile, the Falcons also sent their 2023 sixth-round pick to the Titans in the swap. That’s a far cry from the Falcons’ initial ask of a first-round pick, but that was the best they could do given Jones’ age (32) and contract.
The veteran is owed a $15.3MM base salary for 2021 and still has some guaranteed dollars for 2022. That would have been tough to swing for the Chiefs, who have less than $8MM to work with heading into ’21.
The Ravens — who could have teamed Jones with Watkins — reached a similar conclusion, backing out of talks last week. Ditto for the Seahawks, who already traded their 2022 first-round pick for star safety Jamal Adams. The 49ers and Rams also had varying degrees of interest in the multiple-time Pro Bowler, but the Titans ultimately topped every other offer.
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.