Julio Jones will be a free agent after the 2015 Falcons season—thanks to the team picking up his fifth year option—and his likely contract extension before then presents a difficult case for Atlanta.
On one hand, Jones has reeled in 174 catches for 2,737 yards and 20 touchdowns in just three seasons, excellent numbers made even better when you consider he's missed 14 games in those three years. The issue is that he's missed 14 games in those three years, and he's coming off a broken screw in his foot. Contract talks will likely bog down a bit because of the potent mixture of Jones' undeniable talent, his production and those injury concerns.
Oddly enough, the Falcons have a blueprint to follow in contract talks, and it's from a quarterback. You may be familiar with fellow 2011 draft pick Colin Kaepernick's deal by now, with an eye-popping initial number of $126 million over six years. Look closer and you'll see most of Kaepernick's salaries are guaranteed only for injury, meaning the 49ers can wash their hands of him at any point if they wish and absorb real dead money (say $9 million), but nothing like cutting Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco. Flacco, if cut this year, would cost the Ravens $36 million (!) in dead money.
This is an exceedingly team-friendly contract. The 49ers can cut ties with Kaep after three seasons if he hasn't progressed in a meaningful way and eat very little money. If Kaepernick is a superstar, they'll have him for a deal that will likely seem pretty reasonable by the time 2020 rolls around. Either way, San Francisco is protected, with the biggest issue being if Kaepernick suffers a major injury.
The Falcons should shoot for something similar with Jones, though the money won't be the same. Build in incentives for Jones to continue to destroy the world, build in a safety net for him in case he gets hurt but given the team an out in the (hopefully unlikely) scenario that Jones simply isn't the same post-foot injury. Jones, in turn, simply has to play at a high level for the deal to be extremely lucrative for him. If that's the case, the Falcons will happily fork over the money.
Whether the Falcons will pursue that strategy and whether Jones would take a similar contract remains to be seen, but it's not a bad idea for both parties to take a closer look at Kaep's new contract.