Julio Jones on the move? It sure looks that way. With the 2021 NFL Draft in the past and a dire cap space situation still looming, it appears the Atlanta Falcons are listening intently to offers for Jones, who’s set to make more than $15 million this year and be a $23 million hit to Atlanta’s payroll.
Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport back in April, Julio Jones couldn’t officially help team cap in a trade until June 1 or after, but it isn’t stopping rampant speculation that one of the franchise’s cornerstones may have played his final down for the Dirty Birds.
The #Falcons have received calls from teams inquiring about possible trades for All-Pro WR Julio Jones, sources say. A trade could not happen for cap reasons before June 1, but teams know Atlanta’s brutal cap situation and are calling. A deal won’t happen now, but later? Maybe.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 26, 2021
With June 1 quickly approaching, The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz recently flat-out wrote that the Falcons would like to trade Jones. Monday, Jones told Shannon Sharpe on live television that he’s done in Atlanta, and Rapoport now says the future Hall of Famer asked for a trade before the draft.
If Jones is, indeed, about to be in the shuffle, where does a trade make the most sense?
Julio Jones landing spots: Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers, indeed, already have more than 16% of their cap space next season eaten up by elite wide receivers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and deservedly so. This might seem to box out Julio Jones. Allen, who funnily enough turned 29 on April 27, caught 100 passes last season for 992 yards and eight touchdowns — his fourth-straight year with 95-plus catches. Williams, meanwhile, added 756 yards and five touchdowns on 48 catches, and is just two seasons removed from leading the league in yards per catch (20.4, 2019).
But Los Angeles has several reasons to trade for someone like Atlanta’s Julio Jones.
First and foremost, second-year quarterback and 2020 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Justin Herbert would love nothing more than another All-Pro wideout in his arsenal to help attack a division that already has Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, Las Vegas’ Darren Waller and Henry Ruggs III, and Denver’s Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy. The need for speed against the rivals is ruefully apparent, and a third wideout is only going to help Herbert in a number of ways. It’ll stretch opposing secondaries, giving him running room. Julio Jones will open rushing and receiving lanes for an apt pass-catching back like Austin Ekeler.
Secondly, the Chargers simply have the cap space for such an acquisition. Prior to the 2021 NFL Draft, Los Angeles stood at roughly $14.5 million in space — fourth-best in the league behind the Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cincinnati Bengals. Julio Jones’ cap hit for 2021 is currently listed at $23.05 million, so finding $9 million in equity wouldn’t be simple, but it’s definitely, definitely manageable.
First-year coach Urban Meyer and his Jaguars front office selected Clemson’s Casanova quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft as we all expected. Fans have overtly courted his arrival for months, and ownership has left little mystery in what they plan to do with regard to the elite talent.
After officially tying the knot with longtime girlfriend Marissa Mowry during a private April 11 weekend ceremony in Bluffton, South Carolina, there could be no better wedding gift from Jacksonville’s brass than to get Lawrence an elite wideout in Atlanta’s Julio Jones.
Sure, signing former Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions star Marvin Jones to a two-year deal in the offseason was a good start to rebuilding this offense. And fourth-year pro D.J. Chark is a nice target only two years removed from a 1,000-yard season.
But Julio Jones would absolutely change the dynamic in Duval County, Florida. Running backs Travis Etienne, James Robinson, and Carlos Hyde would love to have all the extra space in the middle of the field to operate, and Lawrence would have a sure-fire, every-down target for short, intermediate and deep throws, as well as jump ball scenarios.
Above all else is Jacksonville’s ability to afford Julio Jones, as the Jaguars sport $16.75 million in cap space. And the last time a 12,000-yard receiver played for JAX, things went pretty well; all thanks to Jimmy Smith.
Cap space? Check. Young, talented quarterback who needs another elite receiver? Double check. Room on the roster for a savvy veteran who can change a culture? Discount double check.
The Cincinnati Bengals wouldn’t be bungling anything if they decided to trade for Atlanta’s Julio Jones. Not only did the club possess more than $16 million in cap space before the 2021 NFL Draft, but they have an electric young-gun signal-caller in recovering star Joe Burrow — who had thrown for more than 2,600 yards with 13 touchdowns and just five interceptions in 10 games before suffering a quadruple whammy (torn ACL/MCL; damaged PCL and meniscus) against the Washington Football Team. Burrow likely earns Rookie of the Year honors had the injury been staved, but all signs point to him being ready for the 2021 campaign.
The departure of longtime locker-room fixture A.J. Green to the Arizona Cardinals leaves more catches for young talents in Tyler Boyd, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins, but it does mean another veteran-like presence such as Julio Jones wouldn’t hurt the team.
The Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens all made the playoffs last season, and honestly only improved in the 2021 offseason. Julio Jones could get Cincinnati firmly in the mix.
San Francisco 49ers
Let’s get weird, okay?
From a cap space standpoint, making a move for Atlanta’s Julio Jones actually helps out San Francisco if the right pieces are in the deal. The 49ers are currently more than $4 million over the 2021 cap, and need to shed a little bit in order to avoid the luxury tax.
But how should John Lynch’s franchise do it? By flipping incumbent quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for Julio Jones, in potentially a one-for-one deal.
It’s a move that would allow 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan to immediately transfer the quarterbacking reins to his 2021 draftee, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance — all while acquiring a Hall-of-Fame wideout to pair with veterans Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel for what could be an explosive offense with Julio Jones.
It’s also a Julio Jones-related move that gives the Falcons an immediate heir apparent for their longtime quarterback Matt Ryan. Atlanta would probably remain a bit cash-strapped due to Garoppolo’s remaining contract numbers, mainly due to Ryan’s contract, which owes him more than $26.9 million in 2021.
But once thought immoveable in late February 2021, Ryan might be ready for a fresh start if his longtime security blanket becomes part of a business decision.