Julio Jones is getting a contract extension from the Falcons. An injury, a suddenly-developing rift or a stunning trade could always change that, but it's extremely likely that Jones will be a key piece of the Falcons' offense for years to come. The question on everyone's mind is how much that will cost.
The short answer is that we don't know, and won't know until the extension is done and the details of the new contract are publicly available. What we can do is look at a few of the larger wide receiver contracts in the NFL today and figure out where Julio lands.
Let's look at the contracts signed by some of the best receivers in the NFL today, with an appreciative nod to OvertheCap:
Calvin Johnson: Total value of $113.45 million, guaranteed $48.75 million, $16.2 million annual average
Mike Wallace: Total value of $60 million, guaranteed $27 million, $12 million annual average
Vincent Jackson: Total value of $55.5 million, guaranteed $26 million, $11.1 annual average
Randall Cobb: Total value of $40 million, guaranteed $13 million, $10 million annual average
Players like Dez Bryant, A.J. Green and Demaryius Thomas are also heading for massive paydays in the near future, and whichever one signs first will likely provide the baseline for all the others. The deal to pay attention to above is Calvin Johnson, because the group of Bryant, Green, Thomas and Jones belong in the discussion for the best NFL receivers, and that's what best NFL receiver money looks like. Julio's case for that money is a good one, coming off a season where he was healthy enough to play 15 games, reel in 104 receptions and amass 1,593 yards and six touchdowns.
It's an expensive proposition, in other words, and you can understand why some fans want to try to move Jones and get value. The Falcons see the extreme value in Julio, his potential to draw attention away from other receivers, his ability to block for the running game and his reliability as a target even as Matt Ryan inevitably moves toward a decline over the next 3-6 years,
My best guess is that you'll see Julio pick up a six-year deal that will hit about $110 million in total value, $50 million guaranteed and an annual average that will make your eyes bug out of your damn head, some of which will be defrayed by the Falcons sinking a greater total value into the early years of the deal. Aaron Freeman at FalcFans points out that Matt Ryan's contract provides less guaranteed money than I'm forecasting for Julio, which means there's a distinct possibility I'm aiming way too high.
@TheFalcoholic I don't think Falcons give Julio $50M guaranteed.Ryan got $42M, so I think Julio comes in just south of that— Aaron Freeman (@falcfans) March 21, 2015
They have the cap space to take bigger hits up front, if they're interested in doing so, and they could always make it a four-or-five year deal and really take those hits early. But I think they'll be interested in locking him up for the long haul, and they'll pay him like he's one of the three or four best receivers in the NFL.
It won't be cheap, in other words, even if my estimate ends up being higher than the Falcons are willing to go/Jones is demanding. The importance of nailing your draft classes and doing smart, cost-effective free agency shopping becomes clear when you consider how much money the Falcons will soon have tied up in Ryan, Julio Jones, Desmond Trufant and (if he develops well) potentially Jake Matthews. Let's hope Julio destroys the NFL in return for those dollars.