BY MICHAEL QUIRK
Atlanta Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones said “I’m outta there” when referencing Atlanta on speakerphone on Undisputed. This news has been a slow burn as the Falcons are in cap hell and need additional draft picks to rebuild their defense, and Jones was inconspicuously left out of the team’s 2021 graphics earlier this month.
This has begged the question that if Jones is done with the Falcons, what are the best fits for a new team? Much of the speculation has centered around New England, Jacksonville, and Los Angeles (A), with seemingly every outlet on Earth putting out a trade fits piece. Let’s not limit ourselves, however, and take a look at the absolute best matches for the former Alabama standout.
Yep, that’s right. Literally anywhere. Jones is already in the pantheon of elite receivers in NFL history as his 95.5 yards per game ranks as the best ever. He has recorded over 1,000 yards seven of his 10 seasons, with the only exceptions being injury-shortened years and his rookie year where he ended up with 959. Jones also averages over 104 yards per game in the postseason across eight appearances. So who could use him? Everyone.
OK, but let’s actually rule some teams out
We can probably rule out the Saints due to not only their cap situation but also the fact that Atlanta is not going to trade Jones to their biggest rival they meet twice per year. So that will also preclude the defending-champion Buccaneers (can you imagine) and the desperate-for-immediate-relevancy Panthers.
It’s also probably fair to rule out anyone in precarious cap situations. Yes, a lot of times, teams can get creative with restructurings and dumping players for Day 3 draft picks, but let’s guess they’re out of the market in all likelihood. That means no Eagles, Titans, Bears, Giants or Saints.
Now, the defense may need a rebuild, but the Falcons are not in a state of the 2019 Miami Dolphins. So, if in the springtime when everything is rosy, will the Atlanta front office really want to trade him to someone they can be fighting with for a spot in the playoffs? After all, look at where recent high-level receivers got trade:
- 2020: The Vikings traded Stefon Diggs to the Bills
- 2020: The Texans traded Deandre Hopkins to the Texans
- 2019: The Giants traded Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns
- 2017: The Saints traded Brandin Cooks to the Patriots
The one thing in common with all four? The receiver at-hand switched leagues. Sure, there are exceptions like Antonio Brown getting traded from the Steelers to the Raiders (though there were not many takers at that point) and Randy Moss getting traded from the Raiders to the Patriots (despite also getting traded from the Vikings to the Raiders and Patriots to the Vikings, switching leagues both times). So what contenders could that rule out? The Seahawks, Packers, Rams, and Cowboys, despite being seen recently in Cowboys’ attire.
Next, let’s look at the fact that Jones said he wants to be on a winning team during the same uncomfortable speakerphone call. Jones has been a good soldier in Atlanta, and one cannot think they would completely screw him on the backend. They may not fully acquiesce to this demand, but we can rule out a couple of more here. The Texans are a mess, the Jaguars are a young wild card, and the Jets are the Jets.
Will the Falcons rule out the team that publicly and eternally embarrassed them in the Super Bowl in New England? Will they resist creating an absolute nightmare for the league by sending him to Patrick Mahomes to pair with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce? I think the answers to those are no and no, so long as the packages are right, as that will supersede any fan resentment on social media.
So who the hell is left
The teams that have not been eliminated thus far are the Bills, Dolphins, Patriots, Steelers, Ravens, Browns, Colts, Chiefs, Raiders, Chargers, and Broncos. I think the Browns are probably out with Jarvis Landry and Beckham already in tow, as that’s a lot of money invested in a receiving room and I don’t think the Falcons are looking to take one of them back.
Do the Dolphins, Raiders, Chargers, and Broncos qualify as contenders? That depends on how you feel about David Carr and three young quarterbacks. Pairing Jones with Keenan Allen in Los Angeles for Justin Herbert seems like a yes. Jon Gruden would love to get his hands on a Jones type to put alongside Josh Jacobs on that offense. Tua Tagovailoa had a fine freshman campaign and added Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle on offense; what moves would they have to do to add Jones to a room that also has Devante Parker? The world does not seem terribly high on Drew Lock these days, so Denver could be the only one really out on this one.
The Colts are fascinating. They aren’t scared to make a big trade as we’ve seen with DeForest Buckner and Carson Wentz. They also have money to spend. Would Pittsburgh try to squeeze one more run out of Ben Roethlisberger while sacrificing possibly vital picks in the near future? If it keeps him from the Ravens, then quite possibly. Jones could change everything about that Baltimore offense and make Lamar Jackson even deadlier. Could the Bills pair Jones with Diggs, giving Josh Allen ammunition to finally overtake the Chiefs?
Who the hell knows. At the end of the day, we are down to nine teams (omitting the Browns and Broncos), and maybe one of the eliminated teams moves heaven and earth to move cap space, or overwhelms Atlanta with a massive haul, or the Falcons just don’t care what the Jets are going to be if they are willing to send them a first rounder. All we do know is when Jones finds his new home, it could change the landscape of the NFL playoff picture before summer even begins.