At this point, it’s seemingly a matter of when, not if, Julio Jones will be traded by the Atlanta Falcons, and the New England Patriots should be near the top of the list of potential suitors for the All-Pro wide receiver’s services.
“I’m out of there,” Jones said Monday to Shannon Sharpe on FS1’s “Undisputed.”
Perhaps the only reason it’s taking so long for Jones to be moved is because Atlanta can’t officially deal him until next month for salary-cap purposes. If the Falcons trade Jones before June 1, they’d actually lose $200,000 in cap space. If they trade him after June 1, then his dead cap gets spread out, and they’d immediately save $15.3 million in space.
It also seems as if the Falcons’ initial asking price was too high. They reportedly wanted a first-round pick back before the draft. And for a 32-year-old wide receiver who missed seven games last season with a hamstring injury, on a team that desperately needs cap space to even sign its draft picks and couldn’t deal its trade chip for another month, well, general managers weren’t exactly knocking down the door to facilitate a trade.
So, now the Falcons might garner the same haul — a second-round pick — they received in dealing wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to the New England Patriots midway through the 2019 season. And Atlanta might even trade Jones to that same Patriots team.
Of course, it’s not the same Patriots team. Tom Brady is no longer at quarterback, and New England actually has better offensive weapons two years later with Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry in the mix.
But looking at that set of wide receivers and tight ends, it’s glaringly obvious the Patriots could still use a wide receiver of Jones’ caliber. And the Patriots’ wide receiver depth chart gets shallow after Agholor, Bourne and Meyers, with N’Keal Harry, Gunner Olszewski, Tre Nixon, Kristian Wilkerson, Isaiah Zuber and Devin Smith rounding it out.
It’s almost as if the Patriots were built to eventually acquire a player like Jones. Wide receiver is one of their most easily upgradeable starting positions on the roster.
Jones also reportedly likes the idea of playing with Patriots quarterback Cam Newton. Jones went to Alabama and played under Nick Saban, so there’s that connection. Newton’s eventual successor is another Alabama product, Mac Jones. And Jones’ personality seems to fit with the Patriots. He’s a legitimate All-Pro wide receiver who’s never shown any diva tendencies.
The Patriots also have the cap space to easily acquire Jones with one minor roster move to free up more room. Or they could readjust Jones’ contract by converting salary into signing bonus to free up more space to carry into the 2021 season.
The Patriots would enter the realm of legitimate Super Bowl contenders. It seems obvious. So, what’s stopping them?
Price could be one aspect. The Patriots value second-round picks, but if they were willing to deal that for Sanu two years ago, then Jones suddenly looks like a bargain.
They need to be cognizant of the 2022 salary cap, however. They currently have around $22.6 million in cap space next offseason. Jones would eat up a large chunk of that. So, the Patriots would have to be willing to let free agents walk and carry over much of the same team they’re currently rostering. That’s a slight risk. But if the Patriots have confidence in the players they’ve drafted and signed, then trading for Jones shouldn’t be an issue.
At this point, it would be shocking to see Jones back in a Falcons uniform this season. So, if Atlanta is willing to deal him on a discount, the Patriots should be first in line to pull off a deal on June 1. It’s simply a matter of out-bidding other teams who should be interested in Jones, like the Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers, Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers.
The Patriots’ advantage in negotiations is that they don’t play in same conference as the Falcons.