Julio Jones wasn't a part of any blockbuster trade during the 2021 NFL Draft, but that doesn't mean the issue is closed for the Atlanta Falcons. News broke one day ahead of the draft that the organization was actively taking calls with the possibility of moving their future Hall of Fame receiver elsewhere and, one day later, newly-hired general manager Terry Fontenot confirmed that was the case -- sending shockwaves that don't exactly feel warm and fuzzy to quarterback Matt Ryan.
The former league MVP is doing his best to not envision a scenario in which his No. 1 receiver and longtime friend isn't in Atlanta alongside him. For his part, he admits the value of Jones to both the team and his career as a quarterback are immeasurable.
"I don't know," Ryan said when asked what the Falcons offense might look like in a post-Jones world, via Michael Rothstein of ESPN. "He's probably impacted my career more significantly than any other player."
Ryan entered the league as the third-overall pick in 2008 and spent three seasons working on his craft with eventual Ring of Honor inductee Roddy White before Jones burst onto the scene as the sixth-overall pick in 2011. Together, Ryan and Jones have been one of the most prolific scoring tandems in the NFL since they joined forces a decade ago, with the latter going on to rack up seven Pro Bowl nods along with five All-Pro honors in the process.
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Already a member of the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team, Jones is a two-time NFL receiving yards leader who's battled some injuries as of late, but not to the point anyone could speculate his demise having already arrived.
He delivered 771 receiving yards in 2020 with only nine games played, and is just one year removed from reeling in 1,394 yards after having given the Falcons nearly 1,700 receiving yards the year prior. Jones had six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons before missing seven games last season, but he remains arguably the best receiver in the NFL when he's on the field -- as Ryan can readily and often attest. To that point, he was awarded a three-year, $66 million extension with $64 million guaranteed in 2019 to keep him secured in Atlanta through the 2023 season, but that wasn't a contract designed by Fontenot.
It's one he inherited from his predecessor and, as such, it's a deal he has no loyalty to.
"Our administration has done an excellent job to this point in getting us in position to be able to manage the cap," he told Justin Felder of FOX 5 in Atlanta in late April. "Yet, we still have more work to do. So when teams call about any players, then we have to listen and we have to weigh it, and have to determine what's best for the organization. We have to handle everything with class.
"Obviously, that particular player we hold in high regard. He's special -- what he's done and what he continues to do here. But we have to consider any players, if it's right for the team, because we have to do what's best for this organization."
Despite the drafting of highly-touted offensive weapon Kyle Pitts, Ryan would like to keep the band together -- with the belief that having Jones around is what's best for the offense. After all, to his point, first ballot players don't grow on trees, but neither does money; and the latter is what Fontenot feels he's also up against.