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All that’s left for Julio Jones and the Falcons is to see who blinks

The Falcons and Julio Jones are now mired in something ugly, but one will blink.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I’m a pessimist in most every aspect of my life, with the exception of the Falcons. For whatever reason, this rolling barrel of disappointment has become the thing I’m most optimistic about every year, which has occasionally turned out to be smart (2012, 2016) and mostly not (2014, 2007, many other years). I look at them and hope for the best, and sometimes expect the best.

So it went with Julio Jones. Now that we know the gifted receiver will be holding out of training camp, perhaps for a day or perhaps for the entire thing, we know that optimism was unwarranted. Now we have to navigate this peculiar reality.

Julio’s holdout

When he blew off OTAs, I saw it as a minor setback, soon to be resolved. When he didn’t show up for minicamp, I said the time to worry would be training camp. When I heard, repeatedly, that the team would look to work something out with him regarding his contract, I was confident the team would head into camp with Julio Jones firmly in tow. And even after the team indicated that they weren’t going to re-visit his deal now but would after the season, I had faith that Julio’s holdout into camp would be a short one.

All of that optimism was misplaced because in the end, neither side blinked. Julio never wavered from his demands for a re-worked contract (even if his agent tried very hard to pretend those demands didn’t exist for a while), the Falcons have utterly refused to re-visit a deal with three years remaining, and neither side wanted to lose face or leverage. I kept expecting the team to toss some sweeteners to Julio, or Julio to accept the writing on the wall and table this thing until after the season, because this is one of the most pivotal seasons in franchise history and the Falcons are a diminished squad without #11.

Optimism’s end

Yet here we are. The reasons for this are myriad, of course, but they begin and end with money and job security. Atlanta doesn’t want to open up the Pandora’s Box associated with re-negotiating a contract with three years left on it, for fear that it will gradually become the new norm on this team, putting them in perpetual danger of cap hell. Julio has concluded that he’s done enough under his current deal, which more or less runs out of guaranteed money post-2018, to deserve an upgraded contract that protects his future.

I tend to side with the athletes, given that owners are far wealthier and enter every new CBA hellbent on maximizing their profit and minimizing what players get for overall and guaranteed money, and I’m in favor of Julio pushing the envelope to get what he feels he’s owed. At the same time, as a Falcons fan who wants to see this team win a Super Bowl and then just keep winning them, I’m sympathetic to the idea that they can’t simply tear up contracts midway through, and that offering to re-work his deal next offseason with two years left would still be generous by NFL standards.

But if the Falcons have made it clear that they have no intention of budging, Julio has made his position equally clear, which is why I’m no longer optimistic about this ending anytime soon. Julio knows full well that re-negotiating his contract in the offseason is a dandy idea unless he gets hurt, suffers any kind of a down year, or really does anything but blow the cover off the ball in his 2018 season, at which point the Falcons have tons of leverage and he’ll be negotiating from a position of weakness. The only card he has left to play is to hold out, as long as humanly possible, and hope he can pressure the Falcons into making some kind of concessions.

At this point, the only thing I’m confident about is that Julio will suit up for the regular season opener, but I haven’t been rewarded for my confidence at any point in this process, so even that must be taken with a grain of salt.

Who blinks?

Speaking realistically, someone’s going to need to blink to end this standoff, or the Falcons are going to be without the services of Julio Jones for the entire season.

The smart money is on Julio, who is negotiating from a position of relative weakness, and who may accomplish little more in the end than earning that promise of a re-visit after the season and missing training camp, which will ensure fans scrutinize everything he does even more than they usually do. That’s unlikely to bother Julio or the Falcons all that much, but it’s certainly going to make this season a lot less fun for just about everybody. About the best Julio can hope for are minor concessions, however, and he can’t be blind to that.

Am I worried, though? Yes. I saw the news land via Ian Rapoport’s Twitter account while standing in line to buy my gas station coffee (yes, I have issues that aren’t germane to this story) and got a sinking feeling in my stomach. [That may have been because you were buying gas station coffee, come on, Dave. - Ed.] There just aren’t many graceful exits left to either side right now, and without those in the offing, we’re headed for a Julio-free August.

There’s still a chance for this to end with minimal acrimony, of course. Julio could be content he’s gotten his message across and end the holdout after a week or two, the Falcons could offer some fresh incentives and Jones could accept them, or the two sides could get together for a bit of a summit where lots of airy things are said and that’s enough to grease the skids. But with every day of training camp that passes with Julio elsewhere and Matt Ryan tossing passes to Calvin Ridley, that possibility becomes more remote. I’d urge all of you to let it play out, as I so often do, and we’ll see who ultimately caves.

Someone will have to blink, though. With pride and money and the sheer American desire to win on the table, I have no confidence we’re headed for a resolution anytime soon. I just fervently hope that this doesn’t prove to be the earliest rumblings of disappointment in a season that should feature one of the most successful Falcons teams of all-time.