Rumors of a potential deal have been bubbling for weeks, but on Thursday morning, The Athletic's Jeff Schultz officially reported that the Atlanta Falcons "would like to trade" star wide receiver Julio Jones. For a combination of reasons including Atlanta's precarious salary cap situation, Jones' advancing age, and the Falcons' own acknowledgment that they're in more of a rebuilding phase than a contending one, Schultz reports that "Jones' availability on the trade market has been clear almost from the time new general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith landed in Atlanta and realized the extent of the team's salary cap problems."
With that in mind, and with Jones having the ability to potentially change a team's offensive fortunes due to his unique size-speed-agility skill set, we thought this was as good a time as any to take a look at some potential trade destinations for the 32-year-old wideout. Before we get to the list, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Jones is set to draw a base salary of $15.3 million during the 2021 season, and $11.513 million during the 2022 and 2023 seasons. Any team trading for him needs to be able to fit the former first-rounder onto their books with minimal salary cap gymnastics required. That eliminates a wide receiver-needy team like the Bears, who have only $219,852 of wiggle room, according to overthecap.com.
- The Falcons are extraordinarily unlikely to trade Jones within the division, so even though the Saints don't have much wide receiver depth behind Michael Thomas, you can probably count them out here.
- We're only considering teams that actually need wide receivers. While it might be cool to see Jones lined up alongside Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup in Dallas and Jerry Jones could certainly dream of selling tons of Julio jerseys, that's not actually something that's going to happen.
Got all that? Good. Let's get to the list.
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Perhaps the most heavily rumored trade destination for Jones, the Ravens make a lot of sense. Despite using a first-round pick on Rashod Bateman, it would still be reasonable to consider wide receiver a need for Baltimore. Marquise Brown has not exactly proven himself as a No. 1 option on the perimeter, as he is more of a deep burner who can take the top off the coverage than someone you can count on in the quick game and/or over the middle. Bateman has more of the latter skill set, but acquiring Jones would open up the field for both of them, as well as Mark Andrews over the middle. There is a question of whether acquiring a star wideout with a high salary would be the best use of resources for a team so committed to its running game, but there's no denying that he would change the dynamic of the offense. They have just south of $10 million in cap space at the moment, so they can easily fit Jones on the books by restructuring deals and/or asking the Falcons to eat some of the salary as part of the deal.
If the goal is to make Aaron Rodgers content enough with the organization that he's willing to return to the fold despite his myriad issues with the front office, there are a lot worse ways to do it than by dealing for one of the best receivers of Rodgers' era. Green Bay does not have much cap room at the moment, but Rodgers might be willing to do an extension and/or restructure his deal if it means the team brings Jones into the fold.
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Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are never afraid to make a bold move. The 49ers already have one of the most electric skill-position groups in the league with George Kittle flanked by Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, but adding Jones (who has played for Shanahan before) would just take the group to another level. It would create an even friendlier environment for No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance, who already has a strong offensive line, one of the league's best play-callers, and excellent receivers to throw to whenever he steps into the lineup. San Francisco can fit Jones' entire base salary on its cap sheet already, so there would be no need to juggle anything on that front. The 49ers could also cut Jimmy Garoppolo loose and create even more cap room, adding yet more talent to put Lance in position to succeed.
No team has overhauled its pass-catching corps this offseason more than the Patriots, who added Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jonnu Smith, and Hunter Henry in free agency. Still, this is only an average-ish unit. Bill Belichick has done plenty of trades with the Falcons before, including recently for Mohamed Sanu -- though that one didn't work out so well. Jones is the type of receiver the Pats haven't had since at least the Randy Moss days, and he even brings a level of physicality to the position that Moss never did. Adding Jones would go a long way toward making life easier for Mac Jones as he transitions to the NFL.
Imagine Justin Herbert throwing to not only Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, but also Jones. At least for this season. Acquiring Jones would almost certainly mean the Chargers let Williams walk after this year, and pick up a compensatory selection for their troubles. They've got over $20 million in cap room at the moment, and after overhauling the offensive line these past two offseasons, it's not like they have many other pressing offensive needs that should take precedence over adding to their explosive receiving corps.
The Colts unsurprisingly want to make things as comfortable as possible for Carson Wentz. They have Frank Reich at the controls of the offense, giving him a degree of familiarity. They have an excellent offensive line, ensuring him good protection. What they don't have is a great group of receivers -- even with T.Y. Hilton returning and Michael Pittman and Parris Campbell now having a bit more experience. Jones would step in and immediately be the clear No. 1 target for Wentz, providing him with a security blanket and a player who can make plays on his own, all over the field. The Colts have been extremely patient with their cap room and draft capital, and this could be an opportunity to cash in.
Tennessee has more needs on the defensive side of the ball, but with Corey Davis signing with the Jets, they do have a need at receiver opposite A.J. Brown. The offensive system is extremely familiar for Jones because it's essentially the Shanahan-style offense, and Jones just fits the ethos of the team, where the focus is all on an enormous physical specimen who can dominate with their size and strength. He'd be a terrific fit.