According to Jeff Schultz of The Athletic, the Falcons “would like to trade” the veteran receiver this offseason. As Schultz pointed out, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen, but if Atlanta is, in fact, looking to move Jones, there will be some that have an interest in acquiring Jones.
Predicting how Tebow will score first Jags TD ‘NFL Total Access’
Jones had a down year in 2020, recording 51 catches, 771 yards and three touchdowns while playing just nine games because of a nagging hamstring injury. But in his previous six seasons, he had recorded at least 1,394 receiving yards and led the league in receiving yards twice.
And during his decade-long career, the former No. 6 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft has averaged 95.5 receiving yards per game, the most of any player in NFL history.
Jones surely is a good player, but just how much would a team be willing to give up for the 32-year-old? To answer that question, it’s important to look back at the trades for Stefon Diggs, DeAndre Hopkins and Odell Beckham Jr. in recent years to see what Jones’ value on the trade market might be.
IYER: Making sense of Urban Meyer’s decision to sign Tim Tebow
How much would a Julio Jones trade cost?
When looking at the below receivers compared to Jones, there’s one thing that clearly stands out that will have a big impact on any potential trade: Jones is significantly older than Diggs, Hopkins or Beckham at the time they were dealt.
All three of the recent No. 1 receivers that were traded were all 27 years old or younger. Jones is 32, so any team trying to acquire him would have to be ready to win now. He wouldn’t be a long-term acquisition for any club. As such, that may drive down his value a bit, especially when you add in Jones’ hamstring injury from last year and his career-long history with nagging lower-body issues.
A deal similar in framework to the Hopkins one would probably be what Jones would fetch on the market. That’s why a trade like the one proposed by PFF below would be a sensible one.
If Atlanta is hell-bent on landing a first-round pick, they could try to swap Jones for a first-round pick straight up. Or, they could acquire a first while giving up Jones and a late-Day 3 pick. Either way, they would have options that would likely either be centered on a first-round pick or two Day 2 picks.
Just ahead of free agency in 2019, the Browns swung a blockbuster deal with the Giants to acquire Beckham Jr. At the time, Beckham, 26, was coming off a season where he posted 77 catches, 1,052 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 12 games for the Giants. And through five seasons, he was averaging 106 catches, 1,485 receiving yards and 12 TDs per 16 games played.
To acquire Beckham, the Browns did have to surrender quite a bit. Peppers was one of their first-round picks in 2017 while Zeitler had started 32 consecutive games for them and played at a high level. But Beckham was a borderline All-Pro and the Browns needed a true No. 1 receiver to pair with Jarvis Landry, who is very close friends with Beckham from their time together at LSU.
As such, the deal did make sense and getting Vernon as a throw-in was a nice value for Cleveland.
Jones had similar production to Beckham in his first five seasons, and the two did have some minor injury concerns during the early stages of their careers as well. So, the deal is relevant from that perspective.
The Hopkins trade may be the worst in NFL history and it’s a big part of the reason that Bill O’Brien will almost certainly never be given control over an NFL roster ever again.
What O’Brien got in exchange for Hopkins, one of the best receivers in the NFL, was pitiful. At the time of the trade, Hopkins, 27, had made three consecutive All-Pro first teams. He had only missed two of a possible 112 career games and was averaging 90.3 catches, 1,228.9 receiving yards and 7.7 touchdowns per year in Houston.
Hopkins is dynamic, fast, makes contested catches and was the favorite target of Deshaun Watson. What did the Texans get back for him? A running back who totaled 691 rushing yards and six TDs for them in 2020, a second-round pick that they spent on defensive tackle Ross Blacklock and a swap of fourth-round picks. Relatively speaking, that’s peanuts — or at the very least, a severe discount.
The Falcons may have to take a similarly-discounted deal if they do trade Jones because of his age and contract status. That said, they should still have a chance to land a better package than what the Texans got in return from Hopkins. If they can’t get that, then it may not be worth trading him at all.
2021 seventh-round pick
The Bills wanted a true No. 1 receiver for their offense and were willing to pay the lofty price needed to acquire Diggs. At first, this looked like a lot to pay for the former Vikings wide-out, but at the time of the deal, he was 26 years old and was coming off back-to-back seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards.
In Buffalo, Diggs turned into a true top receiver and posted career-best marks in catches (127) and receiving yards (1,535). He led the league in both categories for the 2020 season.
Meanwhile, the Vikings took a risk getting no proven players back for Diggs, but they hit the jackpot with Buffalo’s first-round pick (22nd overall). They selected LSU receiver Justin Jefferson who more than replaced Diggs in their offense. Jefferson racked up 1,400 receiving yards as a rookie and would’ve won Offensive Rookie of the Year if not for a stellar effort from Justin Herbert.
If the Falcons are looking for a draft-capital-based package, this would be the best-case scenario for them. They wouldn’t likely land as many picks as the Bills did, but if they can add an influx of draft talent, that would at least give Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot more resources with which to guide Atlanta through a mini-rebuild.
Which teams could trade for Julio Jones?
Because Jones is slated to have a $23 million cap hit in 2021, per Spotrac.com, it won’t necessarily be easy for teams to trade for him straight up. However, NFL teams move money around to create space for talented players all the time, and there’s no question that teams would do the same if they felt like Jones could help them become Super Bowl contenders.
In no particular order, here are some of the teams that could consider targeting Jones via trade.
Patriots. Bill Belichick and the Patriots have been very aggressive in adding to their offense this offseason. They signed Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne in free agency but still need a true No. 1 receiver. Jones would fit the bill.
Ravens. The Ravens signed Sammy Watkins and drafted Rashod Bateman in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft, but they still might not have a No. 1 receiver. Jones could fill that role until Bateman is ready to serve as the top guy. Baltimore loves Alabama guys, too, so this seems like a good match.
Colts. The Colts still have over $20 million in cap space and could afford to add a third receiving weapon to complement T.Y. Hilton and Michael Pittman Jr.
Chiefs. Imagine if the Chiefs paired Jones with Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. Patrick Mahomes would have a field day throwing downfield bombs to them. The Chiefs may not be willing to pay Jones’ salary, but if they are, it could be a match made in heaven.
Raiders. The Raiders wanted to add speed to their receiving corps when they selected Henry Ruggs III in the 2020 NFL Draft. His rookie year was lackluster. Perhaps adding a guy like Jones to replace Agholor and mentor Ruggs, a fellow Alabama product, would be a good move.
Washington. Washington added Curtis Samuel to join Terry McLaurin in the receiver room this offseason. Adding Jones could give them an elite three-man unit. And you better believe that Ron Rivera knows Jones well after watching him go up against the Panthers twice a year for the first nine seasons of Jones’ career.
Packers. Pairing Jones with Davante Adams could be a nice olive branch to extend to Aaron Rodgers… especially if 2020 first-round draft pick Jordan Love is included as part of the trade package for the Falcons.
49ers. Kyle Shanahan coached Jones during his time in Atlanta. Reuniting the duo and having Jones pair team with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk would give the Trey Lance/Jimmy Garoppolo duo plenty of receiving talent to work with.