By Ari Meirov
The Julio Jones trade rumors have heated up once again and it’s starting to feel like something will eventually go down.
Here’s a rundown of how we got here and what we could expect in the coming days and weeks.
On draft week, Albert Breer of SI and Peter King of NBC both wrote in their columns that the Falcons have listened to trade offers for Jones. It’s pretty rare for both columns to have similar information, so that was the first time it felt like something could actually happen and there’s some legitimacy.
That same day, Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot was asked about the reports. He didn’t deny anything, but rather admitted that they are in a tough cap situation and will listen to offers on all players.
Fontenot is right. The Falcons are in cap hell. The previous regime had a rough ending, giving out some awful contracts — including bad free agent deals to G Jamon Brown, DE Dante Fowler and G James Carpenter.
The situation is so bad that the Falcons can’t even sign their 2021 draft class. They currently have about $600,000 in cap space, and the rookie class is going to take up about $13 million.
That’s where Julio Jones comes in. The Falcons could create some cap relief by restructuring Julio’s contract and kicking the cap hit to future years. They did that this offseason to Matt Ryan, Jake Matthews and Deion Jones. They did not do it to Julio Jones, which is important and tells you what’s on their mind. Restructuring Jones would provide the short-term relief it needs for 2021 but will create cap problems in the future. Terry Fontenot has reiterated that he wants to get the team back to a healthy cap situation.
If the Falcons trade Jones after June 1, they will create $15.8 million in salary-cap space, which is enough to sign their entire draft class. The Falcons could even do the trade now, but they would just have to wait until after June 1 to process it and for it to become official.
Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was asked about the Julio situation after the draft and dodged the initial question, and instead went on to talk about information leaking in sports. When asked about it again, he said he won’t predict the future and “we’ll see what happens.”
The Falcons aren’t hiding their cards. It has become clear that they would prefer to go in the “trade Julio” direction to create cap relief.
Jones, the Falcons’ all-time receiving leader with 848 catches, 12,896 yards and 60 touchdowns, turned 32 years old in February. He dealt with nagging hamstring issues throughout the 2020 season, and played in just nine games. He caught 51 passes for 771 yards with three touchdowns. It was his first season not recording over 1,000 yards since 2013.
He has three years left on his deal and cash-wise it’s fairly reasonable ($15.3 million fully-guaranteed this year, $11.513 million in 2022 and $11.513 million in 2023).
But as crazy as it might sound, finding a trade partner for Julio Jones could be tough – and that’s potentially why there’s hasn’t been much action. A team would have to take on the contract and fit it in a shrunken salary cap, while also giving up compensation that would satisfy the Falcons. All that while knowing the player has dealt with injuries.
The Ravens (11/4) are the betting favorites to land Julio if he were to be traded, per BetOnline.AG. The 49ers are second at 3/1. Kyle Shanahan was Julio’s offensive coordinator for two years in Atlanta.
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