Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones -- considered one of the best receiving talents in the NFL -- is on the trade market. Right before the 2021 draft, Falcons GM Terry Fontenot said that the team would listen to trade offers on the 32-year-old veteran as Atlanta attempts to solve its current cap space issues. No deal has been brokered just yet, but a post-June 1 move is looking more and more likely. Jones said this week when asked if he was staying with the Falcons, "I'm outta there."
It's not often that an elite receiver becomes available, but the Falcons' cap situation -- per Over The Cap, they are one of three teams with less than $1 million in space and have plenty of players still to sign -- has put them in this position. Jones has three years left on his deal and a fully guaranteed base salary of $15.3 million for 2021. He is scheduled to cost $23.05 million against the cap this year and $19.263 million in 2022 and 2023. With a reduced cap for this season, teams would have to do some maneuvering to land Jones and fit him under the cap. But there is certainly a market for him.
So who might be interested, and where could Jones land? What could the Falcons get in return? Our NFL Nation reporters served as their teams' GMs and made realistic offers for Jones, and Falcons reporter Michael Rothstein picked one to accept. We requested that reporters make offers only if their teams would legitimately be in the mix for Jones, and cap space, WR depth, contending window and other factors all played a part. For teams that perhaps could have made an offer but didn't, our reporters explained why they opted to pass.
Which team made the best offer and landed Jones in our simulated market for the talented receiver? Here's how it played out.
Why is Jones on the market?
Jones and the Falcons are in this position for a multitude of reasons, very little of it having to do with Jones' actual on-field play. COVID-19 consequences lowered the cap, and former Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff left the team in a massive cap conundrum, so the Falcons had to do some maneuvering with some top-end talent to just field a team with competitive players. Contracts for Matt Ryan, Jake Matthews and Deion Jones were restructured, and Dante Fowler Jr. and Tyeler Davison were asked to take pay cuts.
The Falcons still need to make room to sign their rookies and are left with two high-salary players to release, trade, restructure or extend: Jones and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. The team could extend Jarrett, as he's a cornerstone of the defense. At age 28, Jarrett should have multiple years of high-caliber play left. But barring that, the move is Jones. Fontenot is trying to clean up cap messes, not create new ones, so restructuring Jones seems less likely. Cutting him should not be an option, and neither is extending him, because he has three years left on his deal. And yes, it's worth noting that Jones said this week that he isn't expecting to return to Atlanta.