Star wide receiver Julio Jones expressed discontent with the Atlanta Falcons who selected him sixth overall back in 2011. Knowledge about his disaffection was made public when Shannon Sharpe called Jones on his, and Skip Bayless’, FS1 show Undisputed; some reports claim that Jones was cold called and was unaware of the recording, but others refute and say Jones knew full well he was being recorded.
On the call, Jones said “I’m out of there” when asked about his standing with Atlanta with their new head coach and vision under former Tennessee Titan offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. Ironically enough, Jones ends up traded to the Titans for a 2nd round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Falcons also received a 4th round selection while shipping a 6th rounder to Tennessee.
The Titans will absorb all of Julio Jones’ $15.3 million 2021 salary and the remaining two years of his contract. The Falcons will eat the $7.75 million in dead money and can now sign their 2021 draft selections with the cap space created.
Some may view trading arguably the best player in franchise history for only a second round selection as impudent. I would say the Falcons got a fair return for an obviously disgruntled player, with a high cap, who is 32 and suffers from soft tissue injuries. Jones should still have solid years ahead of him, and he won’t be the main focus of the Titans offense.
Tennessee, under Smith, was a run-centric offense that featured one of the best grind it out backs in the game - Derrick Henry. They also have a star third year receiver named A.J. Brown. Brown has stated that Julio Jones is his “idol” and he actively recruited Jones when he found out the receiver was going to leave Atlanta. Jones doesn’t have to be the de facto first receiver with Brown’s presence, and this should make the Titans offense more potent, if Jones can stay healthy. I’m sure Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill is happy to hear about the acquisition.
The Falcons selected Florida tight end Kyle Pitts with the fourth selection of the draft; many journalists expected that to mean the end of the Jones era in Atlanta - that ended up being the case. Calvin Ridley will assume the role he thrived in last season when Jones was hurt - the primary wide receiver option. Pitts will definitely help the offense, especially if new offensive coordinator Todd Downing, who has been with the Titans since 2019, runs a similar offense that is predicated on heavier personnel packages, and thrives with the play action passing attack.
The New York Giants are set to face the Falcons in week 3. Without Julio Jones to worry about, Patrick Graham can shadow Ridley, if he chooses, while focusing his versatile safety group to eliminate Pitts in his third career game. It may not be an easy task, but Jones would make it much more stressful. The second receiver right now on the Falcons, other than Russell Gage in the slot, would be Olamide Zaccheaus.
Atlanta signed Mike Davis from the Carolina Panthers in the offseason, and he figures to be the main running back in Arthur Smith’s offense. New York really did a good job stopping the run in the interior gaps in 2020 and the Falcons offensive line is still a work in progress. If Graham can restrict the rushing lanes and force Atlanta to throw the football, to a Julio-less team, then the Giants’ secondary will have a very good shot of stopping Ridley, Pitts, and Company. This will be Smith’s second conductive road game, and his second road game as a head coach in the NFL. The game is set for October 3rd at 1:00 EST.
It’s the end of a productive era for Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons. He really wanted to go to a contending team and the Titans have been in the mix the last two seasons. They were eliminated by the Ravens in the Wildcard round in 2020, but went all the way to the AFC Championship in 2019 before falling to the Kansas City Chiefs. Jones can certainly help the Titans’ goal of getting to the Super Bowl, but it will never be easy with the Chiefs, Ravens, Bills, and other ascending teams within the conference.