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A Julio Jones trade would hint to a bridge year for new Falcons regime

You don’t trade a Hall of Famer with a Super Bowl in sight.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

How can this really be about cap space?

The thought about the Atlanta Falcons even vaguely considering a trade of Hall of Fame receiver Julio Jones still feels like such an absurdity, a bad joke during Julio’s heyday. It’s just such a familiar part of the tradition of cheering for this accursed franchise that, on the wave of excitement that comes with picking so high in the draft, that these Julio rumors simply will not disappear. Simply writing about them to try to clear up where talks stand, as Jeff Schultz and Albert Breer have done in recent days, kicks the hornet’s nest all over again.

It’s the eeriest thought to creep into this fan base since Kyle Shanahan got cute on third down in the Super Bowl. The Falcons bring in a new regime with a hotshot offensive mind finally leading the coaching staff, take a potentially generational tight end to supplement the veteran quarterback and somehow might be in a position to trade a gold jacket talent for reason we genuinely may not ever fully understand.

As a Falcons fan, you have had two certainties over the last two years: you cannot feel comfortable with a lead, and you can feel comfortable with the ball in Julio Jones’ hands. Jones has been the totality of everything that makes this franchise what it has been at its best for nearly a decade, and the thought of dumping him for a draft pick in the summer just makes you queasy. At least we have time to brace for the possibility of it?

I’ve tried to make sense of “why” this could happen. If you sit me down with a Coke float and really let me bend your ear, I’d echo Mina Kimes and try to tell you a million reasons why I think this is a bad idea. The Patriot Way has failed most places outside of Foxboro, and even Bill Belichick has been made to look a little silly in the past when he’s seen one of his longtime great players leave the building when the coach previously thought they were on the downward slope.

I don’t really know why the Falcons are reportedly talking about a Jones trade; I know I would hate it for reasons fully stemming from the fact that I wore this guy’s last name on the back of a Falcons shirt for years. I feel very confident about one thing, though, if he is traded: It would indicate that yeah, contending is a nice bonus in 2021, but we’re not all-in on it the way I suggested they should be post-draft.

This whole thing seems to build and lose steam by the day, and I’d love to be wasting my time scribbling down words about the idea of this happening. Jones is just too vital to why a lot of us love this franchise to have him leave this unceremoniously, and I can’t pretend that I’m an unbiased voice: I have a deep interest in seeing Jones stay for reasons that involve 10 years of cheering “JUUULLLIIIOOO.” I am very much not an Xs and Os football expert like some of my esteemed colleagues here at The Falcoholic, but even I can put the square block through the square hole.

If the Falcons trade Jones, they’re weakening the offensive potential for 2021. It’s an active investment away from the now and into the future. I won’t argue too much the idea here of if this is really worth it for 2022 and beyond because I don’t know if Jones even is in the league past this year. If he really is on the decline—something not borne out by his performance when healthy last year—and the team gets a great draft pick or promising player out of a trade, I’ll take the devastating lump now and just say they were willing to make the unpopular move now to shore up the future.

I don’t see the reasoning of how trading Jones makes Matt Ryan a better quarterback this year. I don’t see how rushing Kyle Pitts, however good he may be, into this level of pressure early in his career really makes sense right now knowing a Jones trade would make Calvin Ridley the victim of double coverage often if Pitts isn’t a world-beater right away. I don’t really understand how the Saints continue to mock the salary cap and how, if this really is why, the Falcons spent $3 million on a fun gadget player and kick returner and might be in a position to trade Jones in order to sign the rookies (I just don’t want to think that’s it).

The way this makes sense to me: you know this isn’t your year and you want to get what you can out of an electric player like Jones now to get as much as you can down the road. To be fair to the new guys, it’d be improper to suggest a team that just went 4-12 would be wrong to trade most any player. The team might break our hearts, but they might well be justified to make a Jones trade happen. To still suggest that you want to “win now” after trading someone who makes your team a lot better when he’s there would feel a little like press conference sentiment.

Cap space, to be very blunt, feels like a convenient excuse. The team can find other ways to pay the rookies; this is the NFL. If Jones gets dealt, it’s not by a team with its back against the wall. It’s by a team that’s not feeling the pressure to win right away.