After we first saw reports of the Atlanta Falcons engaging in trade talks for future Hall of Fame wide receiver Julio Jones, reporters have been providing conflicting guesses for what’s ahead for one of the greatest players in franchise history.
Albert Breer of The MMQB has said on his latest podcast that he thinks the Falcons will make an attempt to trade Jones this week as the 2021 NFL Draft gets underway. Earlier this evening, NFL insider Jay Glazer said he doesn’t view a trade as particularly likely, and views the Baltimore Ravens as the most ardent suitor for Julio.
Unsurprisingly, we have conflicting reports here. Glazer seems more certain of himself, but that in and of itself is evidence of nothing. Trading Julio is, by dint of his contract alone, a tricky thing to do, and it would presumably take a major offer for the Falcons to consider it. We’ll see what happens next.
Original report follows below.
“My feeling right now is that they’re going to wind up moving Julio Jones. Like, I’m not positive they’re going to wind up, they’re going to try to move Julio Jones during draft week,” Breer said. “That leaves a hole for a queen on the chessboard-type of skill player.”
Breer said the feels that player is Kyle Pitts, who is gaining major momentum for being the Falcons’ fourth-overall pick.
He cites new general manager Terry Fontenot’s time in New Orleans and that team’s effort to build around Drew Brees in the 2017 draft, a time that opened up a new championship window for the Saints. He feels Fontenot could try to execute that same plan in Atlanta with Matt Ryan.
“If you look at some of the relationship-building stuff both Terry and Arthur Smith have done with Matt Ryan, it doesn’t look like it’s a guy they’re getting set to wave goodbye to,” Breer added.
“And so, my guess right now would be, let’s go for it for the next year or two with Matt Ryan as our quarterback. Let’s clean up our cap situation. Let’s see if we can draft well enough to build a winner here the same way the perpetually cash-strapped Saints did around Drew Brees starting four years ago, so I’m going with Kyle Pitts at number four.”
Before you begin the wailing and gnashing of teeth for Jones’ imminent departure, note that Breer didn’t offer any definitives here, and it’s not clear how much of this is reporting and how much of it is a gut feeling. Trading Jones will be difficult this week, with a post-June 1 designation needed to open up the appropriate cap space (about $15 million) for the Falcons this year and get the necessary break next year, too. It’d also involve finding the right partner. It’d be pushing it to suggest the Falcons would ask for anything less than a second-round pick in the 2022 draft for his services, since he’s still playing at a pretty high level. He might not be the best receiver in football anymore, but he’s still one of them.
Then, there’s just the logical fallacies behind all of it. If you’re really trying to do what New Orleans did in 2017, why would you trade one of your best players, even if he is expensive? You do have Calvin Ridley, but Pitts won’t be able to replicate what Jones means to the team right away, if ever. He’s got a very deep connection with Ryan on the field. Trying to make Ryan’s life easier won’t happen with Jones gone, to put it mildly. That’s just a clear mistake waiting to happen, and you can’t argue you “had to” with the cap since there are other ways to create space than trade a gold jacket player right now, including a smart extension for Grady Jarrett. You’d think trading Jones would mean you’d draft a quarterback with the class so top-heavy at the position, too. Swapping out Jones for Pitts feels unlikely to be a net positive for Ryan and this offense, at least in 2021.
Though it’s a possibility, the best odds say this probably won’t happen this year, even if the Falcons try. Jones is coming off an injury-riddled season, but the Falcons will undoubtedly be asking for a good return for such a high-profile talent. We can’t guarantee what Jones’ future is here, or how long it’ll last. But the fact that someone like Breer feels the team is even trying to move him suggests he’s not long for the franchise one way or the other. As bitter a pill as that is to swallow, so blow the winds of change. We’ll, of course, see if this historic domino falls this week, if at all in the near future.