On April 28th, 2011, a simple phone call made at the 2011 NFL Draft allowed the Atlanta Falcons to move up from 27th overall to sixth overall to land arguably the greatest player in franchise history. On May 24th, 2021, another simple phone call seemingly slammed the door on a historic era in Atlanta for receiver Julio Jones.
Once Jones uttered the words “I’m outta there” on Fox’s Undisputed on yesterday morning while on a live call with analysts Shannon Sharpe and Skip Bayless, you could almost hear the ascending roars echoing from the city of Atlanta as reality truly crept in. After months of speculation, it truly set in at that moment that Jones was undoubtedly on the trade market. In the rear view mirror appears to be the last home game he’s played in Atlanta, a contest in which he posted six receptions for 94 yards in a 21-16 loss to rival New Orleans Saints during Week 13 of this past season.
The average fan is probably asking two questions: How did we get here? What does this all mean for those involved?
Well, I will say this. The eventual departure of Jones is going to leave a sour taste in the mouth of the Falcons fan base, regardless of whether you view it as a necessary business move for both parties or not. This is simply because the Falcons would be parting with a figurehead on the Mount Rushmore of Atlanta sports. A tactical decision such as this will never go unremarked upon, and will never be met with shoulder shrugs and the occasional ‘eh’. This is a fan base/city that took a while to get over the departure of Deion Sanders, and maybe never did. A fan base that has folks who are still up in arms about the lack of closure of the Michael Vick era. I expect the level of emotion to still be elevated as Jones dons the uniform of another team, and well into his eventual retirement.
For the current state of affairs for the Falcons organization, this unforeseen shift marked by a few words on live televised shifts the dynamic in terms of trade talks. Because what is now noted is that the idea of moving on from Jones has been in the works for several months now, not long before the 2021 NFL Draft. It is also now widely known that the receiver himself placed this request on the table for the Falcons organization to deal with. In my eyes, at least, that hurts the trade leverage for the team.
Opposing teams can now approach such trade talks with the mindset that the Falcons must make a trade as soon as possible to avoid more public attention and distractions that take away from the team, and because they need the cap space. Teams will not be forced to meet the demands of the Falcons in terms of a future first round pick for Jones—as hard as that might have been to get, per reports—because which teams needs the trade more at this point? Here is a hint: It’s the Falcons.
Even if the organization is unable to find a viable trade partner and this drags into training camp and possibly the regular season, Jones will still carry a $15.3 million dollar price tag that is guaranteed, no matter which team Jones is employed by. We have to keep in mind that this is a team with a new head coach, new general manager and new coaching staff. That usually means that a new “culture” and a new “blueprint” is something everyone involved is looking to have established this summer and beyond. It’s a hell of a way to get a tenure started, between the highs of deciding what to do with the fourth overall pick and now the challenges associated with this.
As time marches on, the likelihood of Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley being the new WR1 in Atlanta grows. That will also require Russell Gage to step up as he enters his fourth season as a professional. In addition, the responsibility grows a little more for 2021 first rounder Kyle Pitts. Yes, there is still plenty of talent on the offense for the Falcons but let’s be clear here also, the Falcons offense minus Julio Jones looks significantly different.
That will not be just one large piece missing from their offensive puzzle. We’re talking about the team taking the field without the best receiver in the NFL. This is a player that drew double teams at the goal line in games at times. The Falcons will miss out on an opportunity to have a frightening offense on the field with Jones, Ridley, and Pitts catching passes from quarterback Matt Ryan, and we’ll always wonder what that might have looked like.
Clarity on the situation between the #Falcons and WR Julio Jones: The All-Pro requested a trade from the organization a few months ago, sources say, and the team then agreed to listen to offers. That’s how it began and why it continues.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 24, 2021
What all of this means for Jones is that he has reached a point in his career where he is ready to close this chapter. He reportedly approached the team in March with a strong stance on wanting to part ways, a parting from a team that made a franchise-shifting move to draft him back in 2011. It’s a parting from a team where he produced 848 receptions, 12,896 yards, 60 touchdowns, and 95.5 receiving yards per game in 10 seasons, a Hall of Fame career in its own right that isn’t over yet.
What this means for the Atlanta Falcons is that the Arthur Smith-Terry Fontenot era for the team will start with plenty, and I mean plenty, of fireworks. This team looks like it will be moving on from an icon (or an icon will be moving on from them, depending on your perspective), and that’s an earth-shaking event that will impact the team now and for years to come. Picking and choosing a side to how they have handled the offseason so far is a little unfair before a trade’s even happened and the dust’s even settled. Sure, it’s best to let things play all the way out. But what a way to get things started in Atlanta for the new guys.