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Julio Jones holdout extends into training camp, but does he have any leverage left

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We are entering previously uncharted territory as one of the league’s best weapons threatens to skip camp with three years left on his deal.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Fans are growing increasingly worried with the news that Julio Jones plans to extend his holdout into training camp, as the player and team appear to be at an impasse. Jones wants more money, and the Falcons say they are tight against the cap and can’t afford it. The team restructured a number of deals this offseason to free up cap space for the Matt Ryan extension. The result is a mere $5.6 million in cap space, per the NFLPA. Teams try to hold onto some cash heading into the season to sign injury replacements, and $5.6 million is a reasonable number for that.

While I’m off the mind that Jones is underpaid, thanks to deals for unquestionably lesser players like Sammy Watkins, he has three years left on his deal. As I see it, his options are pretty limited.

Can Julio Jones hold out into the season?

We usually see holdouts threatened when players are in the last year of their contract. They can skip most of the season without having their contract toll. This means Jones could return in mid-November, play out the remaining games, and still get credit for the season. The problem is he would have to do that two more times, and may still get franchised. If he then hits free agency at age 32, he missed his window on a peak-age deal, and definitely soured teams on his desire to play out any deal.

It is, quite frankly, entirely unprecedented and sounds impossible. Players will often threaten holding out, but it almost never happens. Remember when Aaron Donald might hold out all of last year? Me neither.

Can Julio Jones retire?

Remember a few weeks ago when some suggested the possibility Jones could retire? Yes, Calvin Johnson retired early at age 30, and Jones is 29. I suggest there is one major difference here, assuming Jones is indeed considering early retirement: Johnson made almost $114 million. Thank you, old rookie contracts. Jones, on the other hand, is at a mere (mere?) $64 million, and would probably have to repay $7.2 million of his signing bonus. Assuming that’s true, Jones is looking at about $57 million in career earnings, and turns down a minimum of about $34.5 million on his remaining deal.

Assuming a reasonable pay bump to a $15 million average, Jones would turn down coming close to doubling his career earnings in just the next three seasons. No question that it could happen, but the Jones situation seems a lot different from Johnson’s.

Can Julio Jones force a trade?

Hell no.

Be mad Jones is skipping training camp, but he’s one of the best players in the league, and potentially the top player in Falcons history. The Falcons have a window that will shut around the time Ryan and Jones retire. It would be plain stupid for the Falcons to trade Jones, regardless of compensation.

What can Julio Jones realistically do?

Jones is stuck with the Falcons. His only realistic option is to hold out through things inconsequential to a player of his stature, like minicamp, and at least part of training camp. We see suggestions that top players are put in bubble wrap during preseason and camp to help prevent injury. The staff would get a ton of criticism if Jones went down like Jordy Nelson in a meaningless game.

Lets not overrate the importance of camp for a veteran like Jones. Knowing this, Jones likely made the decision to miss a few snaps to put pressure on the Falcons. It is really his only move at this point. The Falcons appear to be sticking to their guns for now, but may cough up a little bit of cash as a good-faith effort. For instance, they could turn $3 million of his 2019 salary into a signing bonus he receives now, with the cap hit spread out across three years.

For now, Jones is stuck letting the team know he expects a pay bump sooner rather than later. The camp holdout shows he is serious. He needs to be sure the Falcons know a contract readjustment must be at the top of their 2019 plans. What is unclear is how long of a holdout will make Jones believe he got his point across.