On the last Monday before the 2021 NFL Draft, rumors have begun to swirl surrounding Julio Jones’ trade availability. The Atlanta Falcons currently have one of the worst salary cap situations in the NFL, which has limited their movement in the offseason. Are the Falcons willing to part ways with one of their franchise’s all-time greatest players to create cap space?
Rumors surrounding Julio Jones’ availability
Arthur Blank said he would not make any players off-limits for his new general manager and head coach during this offseason. His statement seems to have stayed true. On April 26, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Atlanta had taken calls regarding possible trades for Jones.
The Falcons recently restructured Matt Ryan’s contract in a way that makes him immovable for at least the next two seasons. This move led many to believe the Falcons were in win-now mode. If Jones is dealt, then they do not think they can compete in 2021. As long as Ryan is under center, the Falcons will likely not have a top-five selection in future drafts. This brings me to the conclusion that Atlanta will take a QB at No. 4 to ensure they draft their future of the franchise.
Any trade for Jones before June 1 leaves the Falcons with over $23 million in dead money in 2021. However, if a trade occurs after June 1, that same $23 million would be dispersed over two seasons. There would be a $7.75 million cap hit in 2021 and $15.5 million in 2022.
With cap logistics out of the way, who are the teams potentially making calls for Jones’ services?
Potential trade partners for Julio Jones
At 32 years old, Jones still has elite play left in the tank. In the right situation, he can record just his second 10-touchdown season since entering the NFL in 2011.
New England Patriots
The Patriots’ lack of receiving weapons became clear to everyone after their 2020 campaign. They signed tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith to bolster their 12 personnel, but a star boundary receiver is still a need. Currently, sat atop their WR depth chart is Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, and Kendrick Bourne. Do any of them strike fear in the hearts of defenses?
Even after a flurry of free-agent signings, the Patriots have just enough cap space to sneak in Jones’ contract the next three years. In his weekly column, NBC Sport’s Peter King mentioned that a second-rounder might be enough to swing a trade for Jones. If this is true, it leaves New England with their top-15 pick and still has enough draft capital to make a trade up if they have their eyes on a rookie signal-caller.
Another team that’s receiving woes was on full display last season, the Ravens would be hard-pressed to find a better target for Lamar Jackson to throw to. Baltimore must bring in a third receiving option to pair with Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown. Sure, they signed Sammy Watkins this offseason, but he proved little more than an auxiliary piece in Kansas City’s offense.
Jones would finish the 2021 season with production less than what we are used to seeing due to the Ravens’ run-heavy offense. Still, providing Jackson with a true alpha receiver will accelerate his progression in the NFL and ensure Baltimore is a mainstay in the playoffs for years to come.
The Dolphins signed Will Fuller in free agency and already have DeVante Parker outside for Tua Tagovailoa. However, you can never have too many quality pass catchers. Miami has been linked to Kyle Pitts and the top receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft class after trading down then back up to No. 6 overall. Tua’s play as a rookie was not great, though he showed flashes of his potential.
There is no better way to help a quarterback thrive in the NFL than give him an arsenal that gets open with ease. Picture this: Parker, Fuller, Mike Gesicki, and Jones on the same offense? Now, that doesn’t 100% mean Tua wouldn’t just check the ball down or take an unnecessary sack, but it at least gives him complete confidence in the players he is throwing passes to.
Las Vegas Raiders
Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock signed Antonio Brown in a heartbeat two years ago despite his off-field issues. Why wouldn’t they swing for the fences on Jones? Henry Ruggs is not a bust, but he showed little to nothing last year. Much of that was due to the way the Raiders deployed him. Nonetheless, Derek Carr needs someone else to pass to outside of star tight end Darren Waller.
Their defense is subpar, to be kind, so why not buy into the “my guns are bigger than yours” philosophy of team building? In a division with Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs, Justin Herbert’s Chargers, and some QB’s talented Broncos, the Raiders would be wise to invest in their own star-studded passing attack.
The Titans are in the market for a receiver opposite A.J. Brown after Corey Davis’ departure. With just over $5 million in cap space, it will take some maneuvering, but an exchange for Jones is not out of the question. Derrick Henry is the engine that powers the offense, but after back-to-back playoff exits, Tennessee may realize running the ball can only take you so far.
Brown and Jones on the boundary and Josh Reynolds in the slot should prove too enticing to pass up. Ryan Tannehill earned a $118 million contract to do more than hand the ball off, and I’m sure he would appreciate a Hall-of-Fame-caliber player in his receiving room.
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