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Julio Jones walks the veteran’s path in holdout

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Jones is starting on a path all too familiar with so many NFL greats.

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Jones turns 30 in 2019.

The Falcons drafted Calvin Ridley in the 2019 NFL draft.

The Falcons are set to pay Mohamed Sanu $7.4 million dollars in 2019.

Julio Jones wants a new deal.

Welcome to the veteran stage in our tall tale of Julio “Jet” Jones.

The campfire has been ablaze with chatter about Julio “consummate teammate” Jones making the biggest business decision of his career by opting to hold out of June minicamp and summer OTAs to leverage getting a bigger contract, and in turn, an extension that would make him likely the highest-paid receiver in football.

Most are angry about it, some are worried, the Falcons seem pretty even keel, but Jones? Jones is learning the lesson that all NFL veterans must learn as they approach 30; you’ve got to get what’s yours before the team gets you in the end.

People forget about the NFL being a business. It’s a system where people get paid money to entertain crowds, no different from a concert or a movie. The best players are called “stars” for a reason. Stars make lots of money, and stars eventually fade.

Julio Jones is one of the best players in the NFL. One day, he won’t be. One day, the Falcons will probably cut Julio Jones, or they’ll encourage him to retire. Maybe he’ll get to go out on his own terms. It happens to everyone who plays in this league in one way, shape, or the other.

A tough part about being a player like Jones is that teams consistently want to get other talented players around them to have the fireworks display of the league. Jones was the firework to add to what Roddy White brought to the team, and he saw Mohamed Sanu come in to replace his close friend White in 2016. People don’t think about what affect that had on Jones, to see the guy who mentored him and became close to him, and then saw his career basically flame out in a down year of disappointment. White was unceremoniously cut before the team’s Super Bowl berth season in 2016.

Now, Jones has befriended Sanu, and it seems like the two have become close.

But, remember.

The Falcons are set to pay Mohamed Sanu $7.4 million dollars in 2019.

The Falcons drafted Calvin Ridley in the 2018 NFL draft.

Julio Jones turns 30 in 2019.

Julio Jones wants a new deal.

Jones is entering the part of his career where he’s the one with the power, but also the one who must prepare to one day face what White faced, what Sanu will have to face in 2019 when, if Ridley performs to expectations, he might get released if he doesn’t take a pay cut. There are too many guys to pay. Sanu is an expensive luxury, and is now worth more than what he signed for when he got here. You know where this is headed. So does Jones.

He knows he’s perhaps about to lose another friend to the cruel business of football, and his pal Sanu’s — and maybe even his own — heir apparent is taking passes from Matt Ryan.

We haven’t thought about drafting Calvin Ridley as being a negative thing for the team; inherently, it’s not. All reports say it’s fairly unanimous that he’s been a smash out of the gate. But, one small negative that might come with his drafting is what it represents to the veterans in the room. Jones saw the kindness of White help him acclimate to the league; we have no reason to think Jones won’t extend that level of kindness, even more so, to the young Bama wideout.

But, he also knows that this is still a business. And, he’s underpaid. And, as freaky as his body is, he has no guarantees that he’s immune to the career-ender we all fear for all NFL players. Being a good teammate and helping the young guys come along doesn’t mean Jones isn’t going to prepare himself for the winter he’ll have to face one day. For the winter that has taken his buddy White out of the league. For the winter that might await Sanu’s time in Atlanta. For the winter his new workout friend Terrell Owens has seen far too many times.

If Jones stood pat, and waited until his deal was expired in 2021, he’d bump up awfully close to the timeframe Ridley would be eyeing to get his first contract done. You want a tough situation, well, there’s one waiting for you.

Julio also came as close as any player has to a Super Bowl ring, only to see it taken from him by circumstances beyond his control. You either get ring envy, or you get so learned on what exactly has to happen to get there in the first place, you realize that when you get a shot, it’s awfully hard to get back. Jones is the type to always deliver his best. But, he’s also the type who is smart enough to know when it’s time to get paid.

The better Ridley gets, the less motivated the Falcons will be to pay Julio what he’s worth. What if Jones hit a point where he dips in his early 30s? Where he’s still a great player, but not the greatest player, and he misses out on being paid like that? What happens if the coaching staff changes, the league changes, and somehow, it becomes unpopular to pay top receivers like kings? What about this? What about that?

Jones has been around the winds of change before. The arrival of Ridley, while exciting on paper and for the team’s offensive quality, signals a change is coming. For who? When? How? We don’t know yet. But, you don’t spend a first round pick on a player, and that not have an impact on the future of that position.

Jones has reached the point where he realizes he’s at the peak of his game, and he needs to get what he can now, before it’s not available for him in the future.

For once, the ultimate teammate is making a decision for himself. And, y’know, that’s the best path forward he can take. All the greats take it at some point.

Remember.

Julio Jones turns 30 in 2019.

The Falcons drafted Calvin Ridley in the 2018 NFL draft.

The Falcons are set to pay Mohamed Sanu $7.4 million dollars in 2019.

Julio Jones wants a new deal.

Can you blame him?