After weeks of speculation about his future, Julio Jones is headed to the Tennessee Titans, with the Atlanta Falcons set to deal the star receiver in exchange for a pair of draft picks. Most expected the perennial Pro Bowler to be dealt in the wake of reports about his trade request, as well as the wideout even suggesting on TV he was set to depart Atlanta. But his move is notable nonetheless, marking a new chapter in the career of an all-time Falcon and giving the Titans maybe the NFL's most physically imposing pass-catching duo.
Who are the big winners from the Julio deal? And who's hurting the most after the agreement to get Jones to Tennessee? Here are our winners and losers from Sunday's swap:
Some of you might be saying "duh," but this bears exploring. Yes, Julio's numbers have dipped for two straight seasons. Yes, he was banged up a lot in 2020. Yes, he's 32 and costs a ton ($23 million) this year. But the Titans' most glaring remaining need was at pass catcher, where they let both Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith walk. They're clearly in win-now mode with Ryan Tannehill and a ready-made rushing attack leading the offense. Now, they have Jones -- who boasts a Pro Bowl floor if he's on the field -- to pair with, dare we say, Julio Jones Lite in A.J. Brown. And if things don't pan out? They can save money ($1.7M) by cutting Jones in 2022, or save a whole lot more ($11.5M) by cutting him in 2023. That's well worth a pair of future Day Two picks in a 2022 second and 2023 fourth.
In more ways than one. Firstly, they're down a stud WR, which doesn't exactly help new coach Arthur Smith's bid to rejuvenate Matt Ryan's career (and yes, it needs at least some rejuvenation). Kyle Pitts helps offset things at pass catcher, but Pitts-Calvin Ridley-Russell Gage/Tajae Sharpe is not the same as Pitts-Ridley-Julio. Don't you dare suggest Falcons fans should be celebrating this because now the team can sign its own draft picks, either. Since when do we applaud clubs for auctioning all-time players so they can dig themselves out of their own financial holes? Julio may have wanted out regardless, but that still indicts the Falcons, who are stuck between trying to contend (retaining/renegotiating with Ryan, etc.) and totally rebuilding.
Winner: Ryan Tannehill
Kinda goes without saying (and under the "Titans" umbrella), but seriously, to go from having A.J. Brown and Josh Reynolds to A.J. Brown and Julio Jones? This isn't a confidence boost; it's a darn confidence injection, straight into the veins of his throwing arm.
One player isn't often going to change a division race, but Julio is not most players, especially if he's healthy. And again, he's stepping into what was maybe the biggest area of weakness in the Titans' lineup. The age and recent injury history aren't nothing, but this has to be pretty darn close to the AFC South trade equivalent of Superman arriving just as Metropolis begins to look vulnerable. Translation: Tennessee's odds of repeating as division champs look a lot better. Indianapolis is still primed to challenge if Carson Wentz at least slightly returns to form, but the Colts certainly aren't celebrating this get for their rivals. Oh, and there's also the fact that Indy probably could've justified this kind of move for its own playoff run.
Winner: Julio Jones
Mostly in that he gets the fresh scenery he was looking for. Kind of ironic that he ended up leaving a newly crowned Arthur Smith regime for the place from which Smith came, and it's not a given Julio will get as many stat-padding opportunities as he would've in Atlanta, where he knows Matt Ryan and would've assuredly been tasked with producing late in games to make up for the Falcons' porous defense. But look at this way: He gets to play for a more likely contender, at no reduction in pay, and with a more clearly defined No. 1 role than in Atlanta, where Ridley and Pitts would've combined to demand more targets than just A.J. Brown.
Other teams, like the Patriots, were also rumored to be in on Julio, but these three, in particular, could've really benefited from adding such a star wideout, even for just one or two years. San Francisco might be back in the NFC title mix, regardless of whether it's Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance under center, and is still young at WR. Green Bay could've used Jones to lure Aaron Rodgers back on a high note, not to mention pair Davante Adams with a new running mate for a title run. Seattle doesn't need Julio, meanwhile, with both DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in tow, but boy would his addition have made the Seahawks even more formidable in the NFC West.