By now, you’ve seen the reports that Julio Jones is going to potentially skip OTAs and is angling for an updated contract, whatever that may mean. There’s skepticism out there about this possibility, but this also isn’t a major concern either way until we hit mandatory minicamp or training camp and Julio still isn’t there.
I absolutely understand why fans (and writers like our own Adnan Ikic) are reluctant to see the team do this. A re-structure after two seasons of a deal could set a precedent, the theory goes, and the team could find itself under an avalanche of constant contract negotiations for disgruntled players. I don’t worry too much about that, but the bigger long-term concern is how the Falcons manage the cap effectively, and a re-worked Julio deal that lands bigger hits in 2018, 2019, or even 2020 will complicate matters.
We’ve heard enough smoke about the contract desires to put some stock in them, however, starting with Vaughn McClure’s report at ESPN earlier this offseason and culminating in yesterday’s reports. The question is, what does Julio want, why does he want it, and how likely is he to get it?
Why does Julio want a new deal?
As our own Charles McDonald noted, the market has changed at wide receiver since Julio signed his pact. That is likely to be a significant factor here.
davante adams, sammy watkins, and jarvis landry are making more than julio right now. his contract is outdated now lol https://t.co/YyZtS6JQV3— charles mcdonald (a guy at the airport) (@FourVerts) May 18, 2018
It’s worth noting that the Giants are poised to pay Odell Beckham Jr. in the not-too-distant future, likely making him the highest-paid receiver in football, and that deal is going to make any future Julio deals even more painful. The Falcons do know that the market has changed significantly enough at receiver, and will change more down the line, that a deal re-structure for one of the two or three best pass catching options in the game is not completely outlandish. Particularly when Jarvis Landry is getting paid more than you.
But it probably goes deeper than mere dollars. The Falcons would incur a huge dead money hit if they cut ties with Julio this year—as unlikely as that is—but those penalties go away over the final two years of Julio’s deal. The post-June 1 cut dead money for Julio in 2019 is just $2.4 million, and a whopping $0 in 2020. That means if Julio suffers a major injury or sudden decline, both of which I’m never going to mention ever again, the Falcons would have absolutely no trouble dumping him. I suspect that if Julio is looking for a new deal, security and guaranteed money are also a genuine factor.
Also, maybe Julio just wants to ensure he’s here as long as Matt Ryan? Aw.
What will the Falcons do?
The Falcons do have options here. They can attempt a minor re-work to Julio’s contract that adds a year or two, adds some guaranteed cash and roster bonuses, and appeases Julio without hopefully adding massive additional cap hits, or they can just tear the deal up a bit and make Julio one of the highest-paid receivers in the NFL for like six months until OBJ gets his. They can also refuse to meet the demands, see if Julio intends to hold out, and call his bluff to see if he’ll play under his current deal for at least one more year.
Every approach carries some risk. The Falcons were already likely to look at getting out of Mohamed Sanu’s contract next year or the year after, but additional money for Julio plus Calvin Ridley’s presence means that day might come sooner than later. Giving Julio more money and years, even if the deal is structured intelligently, will mean larger cap hits down the line for a 30+ wide receiver, even if it saves money up front. Refusing to re-visit the contract risks angering a franchise great and others in the locker room.
I think if Julio is serious about getting his deal re-worked, the Falcons will get it done, possibly with an eye on freeing up money in 2019 for other major extensions in exchange for an impressive overall contract and additional guaranteed money in 2019 and beyond. Ultimately, Julio is looking out for himself, as you’d expect any star player to do, and the Falcons should be willing to accommodate that if it’s not going to fatally complicate their future cap picture.
Expect this thing to really ramp up--and hopefully be done—by June or July.