Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you noticed the incredibly over-covered story of Falcons’ star WR Julio Jones initiating a social media purge where he removed all references to the Falcons. Falcons’ sideline reporter and 92.9 The Game radio host John Michaels put the minds of panicking Atlanta fans at ease with this tweet:
Sources tell me it’s just a fresh start on social media for Julio Jones...nothing more! #RiseUp— John Michaels (@JohnMichaels929) April 23, 2018
While we thought that was the end of that
non-story, some recent educated guessery has surfaced from Atlanta Falcons’ ESPN reporter Vaughn McClure that Jones may be angling for a new contract which gives him a raise, after WRs who aren’t as established have signed for more money in the past couple of offseasons.
Before I continue, I’d just like to emphasize that this is merely speculation at this point, as nothing has come from the Falcons’ front office or Jones himself on the matter. However, Vaughn McClure is a very good reporter and with him being the one who’s speculating, we need to at least look at the possibly of Jones being disgruntled due to his contract.
If the hypothetical of Jones angling for more money does turn out to be true (and I’m not saying that it is), then the Falcons would be incredibly foolish to succumb to such a request.
At the moment, Jones is signed in to the fourth richest contract in the NFL among WRs in total money ($71,256,045), including third among WRs in guaranteed money ($35,500,000). The issue, however, may be that he’s eighth among WRs in terms of annual average ($14,251,209) behind Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Deandre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Jarvis Landry, AJ Green and DeVante Adams. He’s also set to make just $11,426,000 in the final year of his deal.
Julio Jones is a spectacular football player. He’s one of the truly elite offensive players in the game and is the type of player offenses are built around and defenses specifically gameplan for. However, Jones has three full years left on his contract. Because of this fact alone, GM Thomas Dimitroff shouldn’t even think about re-working the deal in a way that makes Jones a richer player.
If Jones were in the last year of his contract right now, then giving him an extension which probably makes him the highest paid WR in the game would most likely be the Falcons’ main priority (and rightfully so). In fact, at the time in which the Alabama product agreed to this current extension (2015), he did become the highest paid receiver in the NFL.
The salary cap has gone up every offseason since, giving more leverage to Mike Evans and Deandre Hopkins as the primary benefactors who are now the highest paid pass catchers in football. Even Jarvis Landry, who signed a lucrative extension with the Browns this offseason, now makes more money than Jones.
Are any of these guys better receivers than Julio is? No, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s the nature of the market, and it’s unfortunate for Jones personally that his contract expired when it did and not a few years later, but that’s the tough luck that an elite player gets sometimes.
To tear up this contract and give Jones more money would put the Falcons in a tough spot. For one, it would take away from the already non-existent cap space the team has to work with for the rest of this offseason, with DT still being a hole after the draft (it was partially filled in the draft with third round rookie Deadrin Senat, but the team seems eager to bring in another body at the position).
Core pieces such as Jake Matthews, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, Keanu Neal and Vic Beasley will be in line for extensions very soon. I doubt that the team will be able to keep all of their players next season as a result (De’Vondre Campbell and Tevin Coleman seem like likely candidates to hit the open market). Giving Jones more money could result in more pieces having to get let go. There are too many mouths to feed.
Finally, tearing up or extending anyone’s contract with three years left on it, even an important piece such as Jones, would be an incredibly foolish precedent to set. Any Falcons player in the future playing better than what his contract dictates while he’s signed long term will possibly go to the front office looking to have their deal re-worked in a similar fashion.
Jones has three years left on his contract, on a Super Bowl contender strapped for cash. I’m not saying that he won’t get taken care of by Arthur Blank down the line to become a Falcon for life (we’d all like to see that), but the Falcons shouldn’t entertain a new contract offer until Julio has one year left on his deal. I also don’t think that a 31-year-old Julio Jones (at that point in time) will have the leverage to demand more money than what the in-prime WRs (like, say Odell Beckham at age 25) are demanding at the moment.