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Why the Falcons will give Julio Jones a contract extension

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Some fans and analysts are reluctant to see the Falcons give Julio Jones a contract extension. Why?

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

There are well-trod paths upon which we walk with our hot takes, and few bear more footprints and torch oil drippings than Julio Jones, his potential extension and his place with the Atlanta Falcons.

Mark Bradley, who I respect a great deal, is the latest to tackle the question of Jones' contract extension. Bradley's argument is essentially that you do not need to overpay for a receiver, because teams do not need great receivers to win in the NFL. It's an argument I'm receptive to up to a point, but my counter-argument would start here: You need great players to win in the NFL, and Julio Jones is one of the precious few on this roster.

The problem is that the notion of replacing Julio Jones' production via a draft pick, free agent or two is magical thinking. The Falcons' receiving corps currently consists of Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas and Devin Hester (all over the age of 30), and no one remotely proven behind them. This is a team without a tight end, with an aging Steven Jackson and young, unproven Devonta Freeman at running back, plus an offensive line . Jones and Matt Ryan are the only truly top-tier players left on this offense, and by subtracting Jones from the equation, you wind up with only one. A couple of weeks ago I talked about putting Ryan in a position to succeed by providing him with as much help as possible, something many seemed to agree with. Letting Jones go would be tantamount to punting that strategy.

To replace Jones, you'd need to make up not just 104 catches for 1,593 yards and 6 touchdowns, but the effect Julio's presence has on opposing defenses. You may well be able to add a free agent and draft pick who together could approximate that production, but they're not particularly likely to command double teams unless you invest significant resources in said receiver(s). Jones does command that attention now, and the lack of production from other receivers when teams are bracketing him with a safety says more about them than it does Jones.

The only good argument for not bringing Jones back has to do with dangling him in a trade and bringing back significant resources for the front office and Dan Quinn to rebuild a team with major holes. If the Falcons could swing a truly blockbuster deal that gave them multiple draft picks and/or players, then obviously I'd at least be amenable to listening, as I would hope the team would be. But I fear that with the glut of promising young rookie receivers, that kind of package just wouldn't be forthcoming for Jones, and swapping him out for one first rounder is pointless when you'd likely need to sink that pick back into a receiver to help replace his production.

Besides, this Falcons team does not exist in a vacuum. They paid handsomely to move up and select Jones, and injuries aside, he's been every bit the receiver the Falcons hoped for, as well as a major draw for the fanbase even in a pair of disappointing years. The old saw about winning trumping everything else has a certain amount of merit, but like it or not, fans still flock to see stars. Julio Jones is a star, and the Falcons would need to be convinced they could get back not just assets in a trade, but some of the same wattage Julio brings. That's far from guaranteed.

Fans are weirdly averse to watching their teams spend big money on star players, one of the few times where your average NFL enthusiast is eager to distribute wealth to many and not a few. We saw this with Matt Ryan's contract, with some maintaining that it's actively hurting the team despite the Falcons' robust cap space the last two seasons since the extension was inked, and we'll see it again with Julio. If the team was in danger of destroying its cap space for years to come, then a deal wouldn't happen. But if you look around the NFL, you'll see that teams continuously manage to open up cap space and remain competitive, even the ones who sink tons of money into truly terrible contracts. Non-guaranteed contracts mean you're very rarely hamstrung.

If the question is whether Jones is deserving of an extension given his production and role in the offense, and whether the Falcons are going to pay the man handsomely and still have the financial wherewithal to attract free agents and sign their draft picks, the answer is a simple yes.