What seemed like a pipe dream mere months ago now appears to be a reasonable scenario: It’s within the realm of possibility that the New England Patriots could acquire Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones in a trade.
Former NFL general manager Michael Lombardi, who worked with the Patriots as an assistant to the coaching staff between 2014 and 2016, shot down a rumor that New England was interested in moving up to No. 4 overall in a trade that would involve Jones with the Falcons to take quarterback Justin Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft. (He’s right. It doesn’t make any sense since Fields came off the board at No. 11 overall, and New England had ample opportunity to move up between Nos. 4 and 11 overall.) But Lombardi did give credence to the Patriots’ rumored interest in Jones Thursday on his podcast, “The GM Shuffle.”
“Now, the Julio Jones rumor, I don’t doubt that,” Lombardi said. “I think what the Patriots would have to look at on Julio is, can they actually keep Julio on the team for two years? There’s nothing they do in New England that is not about sustainable values. So, what they’re always asking the question is, if we bring this guy in, can we cap him for two years? Now, they’ve made a lot of mistakes in this area. I mean, the Mohamed Sanu (trade), two years ago, they brought him in, they gave up a (second) round pick for him, and he lasted barely a year. So I’m not saying it’s perfect, because nothing’s ever perfect. But the reality here is, I truly believe that they would have to look at their cap, they know they’re going to be tight on their cap next year based on what they did this year.
“But adding a player like this guy could certainly help them. I mean, that would certainly give their offense that one guy that they need that would make everybody else better and then then they could go off to the races. It would make (Patriots wide receiver Nelson) Agholor, better, it would make (Patriots wide receiver Kendrick) Bourne better. I see them being in this. I really do.
” … I don’t doubt the rumor of their interest in Julio Jones. That’s that’s how I would encapsulate that. There’s no doubt. I don’t doubt their — I think that that’s truly the case.”
The Patriots signed Agholor and Bourne as free agents this offseason. They also have Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry and Gunner Olszewski near the top of their wide receiver depth chart, and they picked Tre Nixon in the seventh round of this year’s draft. The Patriots also spent big money signing free-agent tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. But there is absolutely still room for a player of Jones’ caliber at wide receiver, and it would help complete their offensive overhaul this offseason.
The Patriots currently have the cap space to add Jones. They also have the cap space to keep him in 2022 and 2023. New England might want to restructure the All-Pro wide receiver’s contract, converting some base salary into a signing bonus, to create cap space to carry into the 2021 season, however.
Jones, 32, caught 51 passes for 771 yards with three touchdowns in nine games last season. He was coming off of a 99-catch, 1,394-yard, six-touchdown campaign in 2019. He led the NFL in receiving yards in 2015 (1,871 yards) and 2018 (1,677 yards).