In the latest twist of another intriguing offseason, The Atlanta Falcons are rumoured to be actively trying to trade their star wide receiver Julio Jones. Whilst at first it may seem shocking the Falcons would trade one of their all-time great players, on reflection the move makes sense.
It can hardly be overstated how bad the Falcons cap situation is and getting rid of Jones is the best way of addressing it. Their defence is terrible so there’s no reason to make any cuts there. Matt Ryan easily has the most expensive contract on the team, but cutting him would leave an unholy amount of dead cap space. That’s the risk of shifting large parts of a big contract into the last years of a contract to get under the cap in earlier years.
Getting rid of Julio is the one move that would actually save the Falcons a lot of money and without him the Falcons would still have Ridley and Pitts on their offense. There’s also no point wasting the last few years of Jones’ brilliant career on a bad Atlanta team.
I would expect it to be teams like Green Bay and Buffalo who aggressively pursued Jones if they could use some dark arts to make the salary cap situation work.
However to my surprise, the Colts are one of the teams being most closely linked with Jones. At first I shrugged this off as standard offseason speculation from people who should know better. I even mentioned in my previous article on dream trades that Julio wasn’t one of the players I dreamt of the Colts acquiring.
Yet the speculation hasn’t gone away and one of my The Blue Stable colleagues assures me there is substance to the rumours. If the trade is a real possibility, I thought it was worth assessing the pros and cons of the Colts trading for Julio Jones.
Put simply, Julio Jones is an incredibly talented wide receiver. He’s been consistently one of the most athletic and effective wide receivers since he entered the league in 2011. Having him on the roster would make any NFL team meaningfully better.
If Dallas, Kansas City or Seattle got Jones, I might question whether that was the best use of their resources given their existing talent at wide receiver and tight end. Whilst the Colts receiving core is talented, it certainly isn’t anywhere near the level of those three teams.
Wide receiver wasn’t one of the team’s top needs this offseason, but it is an area I think they would have wanted to address if those other needs hadn’t taken priority. It’s certainly an area of the team where there’s significant room for improvement.
One of the greatest questions facing the Colts this year is how well Carson Wentz can bounce back from his terrible year last year. Frank Reich certainly seems confident he can get Wentz playing much closer to his best and Wentz does seem much happier with the Colts.
There can be few better ways of getting your quarterback to play to their potential than pairing them with a wide receiver as skilled and as reliable as Jones. If Wentz can reach his potential this year, he’ll be good enough to get the best out of Julio.
Wentz wouldn’t be the only player who benefitted from playing alongside Jones. TY Hilton would be a clear beneficiary as Jones would demand significant attention from defenders, freeing up space and creating opportunities for Hilton. The two would likely complement each other well as Hilton is the deep threat whilst Jones is a great high-volume, contested catch receiver.
I also think young receivers Pittman and Campbell would benefit hugely from playing alongside and learning from Julio. Pittman plays a similar role to Jones in a receiving corps and so learning from him would surely help the long-term development of a clearly talented player like Pittman.
The Colts are already a very good Football team, they had a strong record last year and came agonisingly close to beating one of the best teams in the league in the Buffalo Bills. If other offensive additions like Wentz and Fisher do pay off, then adding Julio could make this an elite offense and turn the Colts into legitimate SuperBowl contenders. That’s a hell of a reason to bring in any player.
However, I do have some serious reservations about the Colts bringing in Jones. For a start, there are a couple of reasons to think Julio wouldn’t have as significant an impact on this offense as you’d hope.
Whilst he’s undoubtedly talented, Julio doesn’t get anywhere near the number of touchdowns you’d expect from a wide receiver who’s as good as he is. Maybe that’s down to Atlanta and Ridley stealing all his touchdowns. Maybe Hilton or Pittman could hoover up all his touchdowns in Indianapolis so it wouldn’t matter. We simply don’t know, but it’s worth considering.
It’s also worth remembering that Jones has battled niggling injuries over the past few seasons. These have been nothing catastrophic, but they do give reason to pause and consider whether any team will be getting peak Julio for an entire season if they get him.
These concerns don’t actually worry me to much, the real reason I’m sceptical about any trade for Jones are more fundamental. Jones is 32 years old, so any team acquiring him should only expect two to three seasons from him.
This makes him best suited for a teams like the Rams or the Packers whose SuperBowl window is right now whilst star players like Donald and Rodgers (at least for the time being) are on the teams and at their best. The Rams have neither the picks or the cap space to pursue Jones, but it’s teams at that stage of their development who make the most sense for Julio.
The Colts are at an earlier stage in their development. Whilst the team are pretty close to a SuperBowl, their window is much bigger. The Colts have a great core of players at their peak and probably have about six to eight years before stars like Buckner and Kelly start to retire or drop off.
Is it worth aggressively targeting a SuperBowl in the next two years at the cost of the four years after that? Especially before we know for certain how could Wentz can be for the team?
Getting Jones would not be cheap and after signing Fisher and resigning Hilton and Rhodes, the Colts don’t have a huge amount of cap space left. They could probably afford Jones if they really wanted him and engaged in some creative accounting. But Chris Ballard has always resisted this approach, and with good reason.
You can push salaries into future years, but eventually you’ve got to pay the piper. The reason teams like the Falcons and Saints are in the current mess is because they went all in on winning a SuperBowl, failed and are now having to pick up the pieces.
The Colts are going to have to hand out some big contracts over the next two years as they try and secure the futures of Leonard, Smith and later Nelson. The Colts simply cannot sign Jones if doing so jeopardises their ability to keep existing players like that elite trio. To do so would go so directly against everything Chris Ballard has preached for years that it seems incomprehensible he’d do it.
There’s also the question of what draft capital the Colts would have to give up for Julio. Ballard already has a depleted haul at his disposal next year following the Wentz trade. Do they really want to use some of that precious capital on a player as old as Jones? Especially when they’d want to instead use that capital on long-term replacements for Hilton and Rhodes.
On balance, I remain unconvinced the Colts should or will trade for Julio Jones. I’ll of course be excited for the immediate possibilities if the team get him. But I don’t think signing him is in the team’s long-term interest. It seems so against the team’s way of doing business for the past few years that I just can’t see it happening either.