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It’s OK to be mad about the Julio Jones trade, and it’s also OK to be happy about it

There’s no right or wrong way to react when your team trades away a generational talent.

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

The Julio Jones trade rumors have been swirling for months, and on Sunday, all of a sudden, they were no longer rumors. The Falcons traded the best receiver in franchise history to the Tennessee Titans.

In exchange for Jones, the Falcons receive a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 fourth-rounder, and the Falcons will ship a sixth-round pick back to Tennessee in 2023. Tennessee will also absorb Jones’ full contract, which leaves the Falcons on the hook this year for only the $7.75 million they owe to Jones from his option bonus and signing bonus.

Fans’ reactions to this news have been all over the place, and I’ve seen a ton of bickering and back-and-forth about it. Fans who are happy about the trade are getting berated by fans who aren’t, and vice versa. So I’m here to tell you that it’s OK if you’re happy about the Julio trade. And it’s OK if you’re not.

It’s OK if you’re happy about the Falcons trading Julio Jones to the Titans

It really is. And there are reasons to be happy: For starters, the move means the Falcons will finally have the cap space to sign the 2021 draft class. Jones also soured some fans’ perspective of him by explicitly stating he wanted out of Atlanta when Shannon Sharpe called him and shared the conversation live on Undisputed. That’s understandable.

It’s huge that the Titans are taking on Jones’ full salary. His trade value was diminished by other teams’ awareness that the Falcons were up against it with the cap, and Jones publicly stating that he wanted to leave Atlanta and win further complicated the situation for new general manager Terry Fontenot, who’s trying to clean up a salary cap mess he had no hand in creating.

From that perspective, getting the Titans to agree to take on Jones’ entire salary cap hit for this year (minus his prorated fully guaranteed bonuses, obviously) as well as sending the Falcons a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick, is an absolute win for Fontenot and the Falcons.

It seems like whatever soured Jones on the Falcons happened under the last regime. Reports suggest Jones hasn’t even been in the building since Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot were hired. Albert Breer said in this week’s MMQB that Jones had a close relationship with Dan Quinn (understandable; Quinn is a lovely person) and that Jones wasn’t happy Quinn was fired (less understandable from a player who says he wants to be on a winning team). If Jones wasn’t even willing to give Smith and Fontenot a chance, I certainly won’t hold it against Falcons fans who are glad to see him go.

Jones is on the wrong side of 30, he’s got a long injury history, and he didn’t want to be in Atlanta anymore. Getting the trade done now means we don’t have to endure the scorching hot takes about a pending trade for the rest of the offseason. The Falcons can get down to the business of preparing for the 2021 season, and Julio can get settled with his new team, and everyone can just move on. That’s a perfectly valid reason to be happy about the decision to deal Julio, too.

And it’s OK if you’re not happy about the Julio Jones trade

Jones is a generational talent, a future Hall of Famer whose impact on this franchise and the league will be remembered forever. Knowing that our days of watching him dominate opposing defenses in a Falcons uniform are over — man, that stings.

There are also questions about the team’s approach to the draft and free agency in the wake of the trade. Many fans don’t understand why the team would move on from Julio while retaining Matt Ryan instead of starting a full rebuild with a quarterback at No. 4. Sure, the team added Tajae Sharpe in free agency, but he’s not going to replace Julio Jones no matter how much promise he showed under Smith with the Titans. Julio Jones is irreplaceable. The team could have taken other approaches to create sufficient cap space, like working out an extension for Grady Jarrett. Instead, here we are.

And yeah, I get being frustrated with Jones for publicly stating he wanted to leave Atlanta — even though Breer said in Monday’s column that he has it on good authority Jones had no idea he was on the air when Sharpe called and asked him about it. But for many fans, that frustration actually lies with former GM Thomas Dimitroff, who put the Falcons in this cap situation, and team owner Arthur Blank, for his whole “Falcon for life” philosophy that has heavily influenced contract decisions over the past several years and gave players like Julio outsized leverage when negotiating with the front office.

As far as the compensation, it’s hard to see a talent like Julio walk for second-round and fourth-round picks. It’s huge that the Titans are taking on his entire salary, and I sincerely believe Terry Fontenot got the best deal he could for the Falcons given all of the context and backstory here. But that compensation is underwhelming for a future Hall of Famer.

Regardless, Julio Jones is a Tennessee Titan now, and fans feeling any type of way about it won’t change that. But it’s OK to be sad, glad, mad, or however you’re feeling about the end of the Julio Jones era in Atlanta.