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With contract talks behind us, football can finally take center stage

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Everyone has reported to camp, so we can finally start talking about what’s happening on the field.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

It’s been an exhausting few months centered around the Julio Jones contract dispute. The Atlanta Falcons fanbase divided itself over the issue in a way that rivaled the divisiveness of that stupid dress on twitter a few years ago (the dress was blue and black by the way), and whether a hot dog is a sandwich or not (it’s not).

With the Falcons having worked out and resolved the issue over Jones’ contract, by converting approximately $2 million of his 2019 salary into a signing bonus, we can finally move past the Julio Jones contract saga (at least until next offseason).

Everyone has reported to training camp for the Atlanta Falcons, finally letting football become the primary focus for a squad that looks poised to become the first NFL team in history to play the Super Bowl in its home stadium.

Even though I advocated not touching Julio’s contract with three full years left on the deal (no, I didn’t advocate trading him and I have no idea why so many people did), I still applaud GM Thomas Dimitroff for getting the situation resolved in such a timely manner, and avoiding the Falcons’ first holdout since Roddy White in 2009.

We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of getting Jones back in training camp for the full ride. History shows that there can be some side effects to a star player holding out all of camp, even if it’s not always the case.

A history of holdouts

Le’Veon Bell held out all of Steelers’ training camp last year after getting franchise tagged, and while he still had a terrific season overall, he looked awful to start the year: totaling just 138 yards from scrimmage and zero touchdowns on a meager 3.2 yards per carry (on 37 carries) in the team’s first two games. Aaron Donald of the Rams, who held out into September last year, ended up missing the season’s first game and being limited in the second game (playing 68% of the snaps), perhaps because he’s wasn’t fully in game shape.

These are just two very recent examples, and both of those star players had stellar seasons, but I mention it because the Falcons couldn’t afford to have a limited or ineffective Julio Jones to start their season this year. In the first three weeks of the season, Atlanta faces off against three NFC playoff teams from a year ago, including two division rivals, in the Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers. These first three games could go a long way in helping the Falcons secure imperative playoff positioning down the line. They don’t have the benefit of playing the Browns in week one like the Steelers did last year, or the Colts in week one like the Rams did last year.

Aaron Donald, meanwhile, has begun yet another holdout after the Rams still haven’t given him a contract extension as he heads into the final year of his rookie deal, having proven already that he’s the best defensive player in football (and the best football player in the NFL, in my humble opinion). According to Adam Schefter, there’s belief around the league that Donald will not play another down of football until he gets that new contract. I’m sure the Rams are sweating at this news, as this will dominate training camp conversation over at the fields of the University of California, Irvine.

The rest of the Falcons players and coaching staff will not have to answer questions about Julio Jones not reporting to camp, or worry about when the team’s most potent offensive weapon may return.

We can finally get back to talking about what’s going on on the football field. How will the interior of the defensive line hold up with a supposed lack of depth behind Grady Jarrett this season? Will Takk McKinley take that next step as a premier pass rusher in the NFL? Will Vic Beasley get back to his stellar 2016 form now that he’ll go back to defensive end on a full-time basis? How much of an upgrade will Brandon Fusco be over Wes Schweitzer at the Right Guard position?

I never thought I could miss talking about Steve Sarkisian and his offensive philosophies as much as I have this past month. May the Jet Sweeps be effective and the points plentiful, this season.