julio jones falcons
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Jones’ days in Atlanta may be numbered. Should the Jets make a move for the star veteran wide receiver?

Ryan Honey

Could Julio Jones be out of Atlanta prior to the 2021 season?

It’s certainly possible — the veteran receiver is only getting older and carries a heavy price tag ($23.05 million cap hit next year), which isn’t ideal for a Falcons organization in need of a rebuild following three consecutive losing seasons.

Last month, Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot revealed the organization is listening to offers for the star wideout.

“That’s one of those things that, when you’re doing things the right way in the organization, you have to listen if people call, on any player,” Fontenot told Justin Felder of FOX 5 in Atlanta. “And especially, we are in a difficult cap situation. That’s just the circumstance. It’s not a surprise for us, we knew the circumstance we’re in. Our administration has done an excellent job up to this point getting us in position to be able to manage the cap, and yet we still have more work to do.

“So when teams call about any players, we have to listen, and we have to weigh it, and we have to determine what’s best for the organization and we have to handle everything with class. Obviously [Jones], we hold him in high regard…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.”

A number of suitors could be in play, but the organization that potentially acquires him must be able to afford him.

Having said that, a possible landing spot is Florham Park, where Jones could portray his talents for the rebuilding Jets.

New York carries $28.14 million in cap space at the moment, so it’s possible general manager Joe Douglas makes a move for the seven-time Pro Bowler. However, he wouldn’t be able to until after June 1. The Falcons would save $15.3 million in cap space if they were to trade him after that date as opposed to $200,000 if they were to send him away prior to it.

Would this be a beneficial move for Gang Green?

The positives to acquiring Julio Jones

Jones would easily be the top receiver on the Jets roster and greatly complement the ones the team already employs. Douglas enhanced the talent level of the receiver room during the free agency and draft periods with the acquisitions of Corey Davis, Keelan Cole, and Elijah Moore. Denzel Mims is additionally a talented wideout who’s expected to develop during his second professional season.

Julio finding a spot on the roster would lead to the Jets employing one of the top receiving corps in the league, which would be great for recently drafted quarterback Zach Wilson.

During his rookie campaign, the now-former BYU standout will need all the assistance he can get in order to efficiently develop. Having a receiving unit that includes each of the aforementioned names plus Jamison Crowder along with a running back room that encompasses La’Mical Perine and 2021 fourth-rounder Michael Carter would help Zach achieve on-field success.

It would be a much better supporting cast than what Sam Darnold possessed in Florham Park, that’s for sure.

The negatives

Well, the hefty price stands out, and does so even if the Jets do own a decent amount of cap space.

Over the next three seasons, New York would owe Jones $15.3 million, $11.5 million, and $11.5 million if a trade were to occur. Those would obviously be heavy hits when you’re already paying Corey Davis $12.5 million per year and defensive end Carl Lawson $15 million per year. The Jets have also franchise-tagged safety Marcus Maye and might sign him to a long-term deal later this year — that’s another potential move that would come with significant cap hits at some point.

Jones’ price is additionally unattractive when you take into consideration his increasing age and declining skills. While still highly talented, Jones is entering his age-32 season and saw a decrease in his receptions-per-game and yards-per-game marks in each of the last two seasons. In fact, his 85.7 yards-per-game mark in 2020 was the lowest he’s recorded since the 2012 season (74.9 yards per game).

The recent health-related issues could also cause Douglas to go back and forth on a potential move for the future Hall of Famer. Jones missed seven games in 2020 (including the final four of the regular season) due to hamstring issues.

What would it cost the Jets?

Atlanta’s likely going to seek a first-round draft pick in return for Jones; that’s just the reality of it.

Thanks to the 2020 trade of Jamal Adams to Seattle, the Jets own two of such selections next year. They could deal one of them along with a 2022 fourth-round pick (either the one from the Seahawks via the Adams trade or the one from Carolina via the Sam Darnold trade).

A second-, third-, and sixth-round pick could also do it if Douglas was to talk the Falcons out of the belief that Jones carries first-round value. Atlanta is in a rebuild and 35-year-old quarterback Matt Ryan is seemingly on his way out. Therefore, garnering notable draft ammo is what the Falcons must do, and second- and third-round choices are still valuable resources.

Douglas’ past moves to collect future draft picks are why the Jets can currently include themselves in these trade-related conversations. New York is in the position to possibly negotiate a deal — let’s see if the organization pulls the trigger.

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