By: Lucas Kochevar
The unthinkable happened this week as Julio Jones won't be finishing his career in a Falcons uniform. As a Falcons fan through and through, this was something that I refused to believe until it happened. The Falcons were looking for ways to squeeze under the cap and shopping Julio was a possibility. It never made sense to trade the 10-year veteran as the offense would go from elite to okay. Trading Julio only made sense for money purposes. Then, he made the quote to Shannon Sharpe regarding his future in Atlanta, "I'm outta there," The flurry of reports made the rounds from Adam Schefter to Ian Rapoport. Apparently, Jones made the request to Atlanta months ago. It made sense that him requesting the trade was the driving force to start the trade talks with other teams. Personally, this one hurt. It really sucked to hear him basically call Atlanta some losers, although he didn't directly say that. Jones has been the prime example of how any superstar should act throughout his career. Atlanta's all-time leading receiver will return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium one day to become apart of the Falcons Ring of Honor, guaranteed.
Lets take a look at the deal and how it affects both teams involved. The Falcons ended up trading Jones to the Tennessee Titans for what presumably was their best offer. Atlanta received a 2022 2nd round pick, 2023 4th rounder for Julio and a 2023 6th rounder. The biggest part of the deal for Atlanta is the fact that the Titans take on Jones' salary of $15.3M and the remaining years. This always seemed like the most likely compensation for a WR that just turned 32, missed seven games in 2020, and earns that much money. The market was strong, but majority of the teams never seemed serious about taking on the contract. Luckily for the Falcons, Tennessee was willing and able after a Ryan Tannehill restructure.
The Falcons behind the scenes are able to clear up enough cap space to finally sign their rookie class. They also will have a chance to have some leftover cash with approximately $8M. This gives them the ability to sign a veteran edge rusher or cornerback. They aren't out of the woods yet, as they owe a ton of money to around five players for next year. Atlanta's on-the-field product will take a hit on the offensive side of the ball, but they are far from a bad unit. The Falcons' receiver group was pretty solid without Jones last year and they bring in stud rookie TE Kyle Pitts. They are far from bad with Calvin Ridley, Pitts, Hayden Hurst, and Russell Gage. Ridley slides into the spotlight at WR1 and should put up great numbers. Last season, he put up over 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns. Gage was a great WR3, but he'll have to step up into that WR2 spot. Arthur Smith loves using two TE sets so Pitts and Hurst should be on the field together for plenty of snaps during passing downs. Pitts could even bump to the outside, if needed. Atlanta will be fine without Julio. It would have been a great unit with Jones, but they are still a talented core without him.
The Titans receive a boost to their team with the addition of Jones. The Titans form a terrifying trio of Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, and Jones. With emerging star A.J. Brown, Jones should get plenty of targets and opportunities to run free. Something that I think is being overlooked is the departure of Arthur Smith, who is ironically the Falcons HC. The Titans promoted TE coach Todd Downing to the new spot as OC. Downing has experience as an OC back from 2017 when he was promoted to OC for the Raiders. The staff got fired after that season so he never really got to establish himself, but in his first full-time gig his offense ranked 18th in total offense and 23rd in scoring. That Raiders team wasn't as good as this Titans team, but changing teams doesn't work for every OC. That is my biggest concern for Tennessee. I think they can figure it out, but it wouldn't be surprising if they started slower than anticipated. I also don't think this move suddenly bumps the Titans to a Super Bowl Contender. Their defense isn't that improved from last year and they have a hole at RT to figure out. The Titans have a much better shot at winning the AFC South, but I don't think their ceiling is that much higher. I am excited to see what this offense will look on the field in 2021.
You can listen to more thoughts on Julio here -> anchor.fm/lkandb