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What the Julio Jones holdout does and does not mean

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It’s not the end of the world, and it’s also not nothing.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

By now you’ve heard that Julio Jones is not going to mandatory minicamp for the Falcons. This is going to be the story line until a new deal gets done, unfortunately, because player holdouts cause far more angst than, say, a team cutting a player with three years left on his deal. If I sound a bit prematurely fatigued about the situation, it’s because I feel like a deal’s on the horizon in the next month or two, and we’re going to waste a lot of time worrying about what’s coming next.

But I also do understand why there’s real concern. The Falcons have been pressed for cap space all offseason, figure to sort through some big ticket free agents in the next couple of offseasons, and are heading into the heart of their offseason program shortly without their top receiver there. After a year where Julio was his usual excellent self but also dropped a few too many passes and reeled in just three touchdowns, he’s inevitably going to get more blowback than he would after, say, a Super Bowl-winning 2018. Hypothetically.

To help us sort through the hysteria and stay ahead of the story, here’s what this all does and does not mean for Julio and the Falcons.

What it does mean

  • Julio won’t be at mandatory minicamp, which will cost him about $80,000 in fines from the team and mean he won’t have three days of (pretty light) practice with the team. Neither is fatal, but they’re facts worth noting.
  • People are going to freak out, by which I mean they already are freaking out. Local radio is ablaze with hot takes, my Twitter feed is a healthy mix of very mild concern and firebomb “trade Julio” messages, and I expect there’ll be some spirited debates in the comments here. Until the moment a revised deal is done—and probably a while after that—the man many have praised for being a team player is going to eat a lot of criticism for being a diva and putting himself above the team at the exact moment the Falcons have assembled arguably the most talented roster in their long history.
  • Julio is ultimately seeking more money—which tends to get hackles up, especially with three years left on his deal—and more job security. I weighed in on his contract here, but in summary I think this is about both his desire to make more than guys like certified cult member Sammy Watkins and Jarvis Landry, and a desire to turn the last two years of his deal from opportunities for the Falcons to easily cut ties with him if he’s injured or declined into something resembling genuine job security. You may not like that Julio’s doing this, but if you put yourself in his cleats I think you’ll understand why he’s doing it.
  • The Falcons have already said they’re working with Julio and his representation, which means they are not signaling they’re ready to dig in to oppose contract talk. That’s important because it lessens the chances of this getting really ugly. More on that in a moment.

What it doesn’t mean

  • That Julio Jones is gone. It would take the mother of all protracted, unsolvable contract dilemmas for this team to even consider moving on from Julio, and I doubt it’s going to come to that. Despite the team’s obvious bubbling frustration with the situation, and Julio’s unwillingness to show to minicamp, these kinds of dances are not uncommon and typically do end in a new deal. The only thing that makes Julio’s situation somewhat unusual is that he has three years left on his deal, whereas most holdouts occur with one or two years left. Because Julio’s an elite player, because the wide receiver market has shifted so dramatically in the last two years, and because this is definitely Julio’s last big-time deal, I think it’ll happen.
  • That this has to tend in acrimony for the Falcons. Roddy White held out back in 2009—I bet many of you forgot about that—and would go on to play seven more seasons in Atlanta before the bitter end came with Kyle Shanahan in town. I believe Julio when he says he wants to be here, I believe the Falcons when they say he will be here, and the rest is just about dollars, details, and a timeline. It’ll be a little terrifying every moment until it happens, of course.
  • That Julio’s going to come into the season unprepared or underprepared. We can re-visit this if the holdout stretches into training camp, when the team is going to be together for weeks practicing, preparing for preseason games, and generally doing the hard work that precedes the grind of the regular season. At that point, Julio will have missed real time, will be coming in a little behind the rest of his veteran teammates (though still likely ahead of the rookies), and needing to catch up, and that would be a cause for some concern.

    Missing minicamp, though? It’s upsetting and it’s three days where Julio won’t get to run a handful of routes and catch up with Matt Ryan and company. I’m not suggesting that that’s worthless, but I am suggesting that if Julio is staying in shape and working on his own, he still isn’t missing anything that’s going to hurt him over the long haul. Except maybe that $80,000.

Ultimately, though I’m a bit surprised that Julio isn’t going to be at minicamp, my expectations are roughly the same. The Falcons will get a new deal done with Julio that addresses his concerns with money and long-term security, and the financial fallout from that deal is unlikely to be known before next season, when the Falcons have to sort through their free agents and make some tough choices.

As always, my advice is to let this play out before you get too vexed about it. Julio mini-minicamp holdout is a concern for every Falcons fan who wants to see him and the Falcons dominate this year, but it’s still likely to be resolved without bad blood and well before the season begins.