Just when you thought the Julio Jones rumor mill couldn’t get much spicier, someone reaches into the pantry and slathers Tabasco all over it. The latest round of “Where Will Julio Land?” now includes the New England Patriots, a team Jones reportedly wants to join Cam Newton in playing for this coming season, per Michael Holley of NBC Sports Boston, as the Atlanta Falcons remain open to a potential split. Even if there wasn’t room on the roster for another receiver, Jones isn’t simply another receiver, and it would stand to reason the Patriots — or any team not enjoying a WR war chest equivalent to the Dallas Cowboys — would find a way to make room.
As it stands, the club is reportedly having internal discussions about Jones, per Mike Giardi of NFL Network, so the interest is seemingly mutual.
The team didn’t draft a receiver until the seventh round this year, namely Tre Nixon, and lost Julian Edelman to retirement. The signing of both Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor in free agency help put them in a better position than they were in 2020 but, respectfully speaking, you can roll both of them into one and toss in every other receiver on the Patriots roster and you’d still fall short of having created what makes Jones arguably the best wideout in the entire league. They pulled a similar move when they traded for Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss in 2007, and fell only one game short of delivering the league’s first-ever perfect 19-0 season, losing to Eli Manning and the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
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That said, there’s another part of the equation that could complicate matters: money.
At this point, it’s no secret the Falcons are taking offers to potentially trade their future first-ballot Hall of Fame receiver, with newly-installed general manager Terry Fontenot confirming the reports ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft. Although there was no blockbuster deal struck during the three-day event in Cleveland, the train toward a potential divorce continues barreling ahead — recent reports now stating definitively the Falcons are doing more than simply listening with an open ear. Instead, they’re allegedly trying to help facilitate one, with the hopes of shedding his coming cap hit linked to the three-year, $66 million extension signed in 2019 that includes $64 million guaranteed.
The seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro is scheduled to hit the Falcons salary cap for a hefty $23.05 million, precluding any talk of him being a possibility for outright release. The Falcons would suffer a massive dead money hit of $40.55 million if they were to cut Jones, losing $17.5 million against the cap in the process. Should they trade him post-June 1, however, the dead money hit would drop precipitously to just $7.75 million, and they’d garner $15.3 million in savings toward the cap. So expect trade discussions to ramp up soon, be it with or without the Patriots, with June 1 only days away.
As far as space to fit Jones in goes, the Patriots aren’t in a bad spot, currently owners of just over $15 million in room to begin absorbing his deal. Of his total $23.05 million cap hit for 2021, only $15.3 million is his guaranteed salary, with the remainder being his prorated signing bonus that’s already been paid out in Atlanta, which means the Patriots wouldn’t be on the hook for it.
So, in essence, the Patriots can easily take on Jones’ salary with very few tweaks — e.g. restructures, releases.
It’s not a move former league MVP Matt Ryan is onboard with, having made it clear the Falcons offense without Jones doesn’t have a face, given what he’s meant and continues to mean not only for the unit but for Ryan’s career up to this point (and potentially beyond).
“I don’t know,” Ryan said when asked what the Falcons offense might look like in a post-Jones world, via Michael Rothstein of ESPN. “He’s probably impacted my career more significantly than any other player.”
In the end, it’s not his decision, but instead that of owner Arthur Blank and Fontenot. And while the former went out of his way to make sure Jones stayed put in 2019, that was with a different GM in tow, and the current one is now trying to get out from under the deal struck two years ago.
“Our administration has done an excellent job to this point in getting us in position to be able to manage the cap,” said Fontenot in April. “Yet, we still have more work to do. So when teams call about any players, then we have to listen and we have to weigh it, and have to determine what’s best for the organization. We have to handle everything with class.
“Obviously, that particular player we hold in high regard. He’s special — what he’s done and what he continues to do here. But we have to consider any players, if it’s right for the team, because we have to do what’s best for this organization.”
Not many believe shipping Jones out of town would achieve that goal in Atlanta, but it certainly would for the Patriots if they’re the ones who pull the trigger. And if it’s true Jones is eyeing them, they have that much more motivation to give Newton — and ultimately, Mac Jones — a nuclear weapon going forward.