Who won the Julio Jones trade?

Did the Falcons win the Julio Jones trade?

What are the long term implications?

Daniel Racz @Danny___Dimes 

Introduction

In an era where elite wide receivers can’t stay out of the news and spend their careers across multiple teams, Julio Jones’ tenure with the Falcons feels like an anomaly. Julio came out of Alabama and the Falcons selected him sixth overall in the 2011 draft. For a decade, Julio was a premier wide receiver with the Falcons. Julio totaled 12,896 yards, 848 receptions, and 60 touchdowns in Atlanta. His magnificent career will undoubtedly put him in the hall of fame, but his story is not done yet.

Rumors regarding Julio wanting out of Atlanta were present for the entire offseason, but they picked up after the draft. During a call between Shannon Sharpe and Julio Jones, Julio expressed his desire to play for a competitive team and his displeasure with staying with the Atlanta Falcons for the 2021 season. So, the Titans jumped in. General Manager Jon Robinson offered a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick for Julio Jones and a sixth-round pick. The compensation for a 32-year-old Julio Jones is similar to the capital that the Arizona Cardinals moved for Deandre Hopkins. 

Though Tennessee had to give up valuable draft picks to acquire Julio, they are undoubtedly a winner of the trade. Atlanta received somewhat fair compensation, but they mishandled the situation and should have drafted knowing they would be entering a rebuild. 

Winners

Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans were always a frontrunner for acquiring Julio’s services because they lacked weapons after a quiet offseason. Besides A.J Brown, the Titans weapons depth chart consisted of Dez Fitzpatrick, Anthony Firkser, and Josh Reynolds. Despite their questionable group of playmakers, the rest of the Titans’ roster is in competitive shape. The offensive line features the addition of rookie Dillon Radunz and a healthy Taylor Lewan. The defense added rookie corners Caleb Farley and Elijah Molden and signed edge rusher Bud Dupree.  The Titans had a below-average defense in 2020, but their new additions will likely bring them close to league average.

A team with a mediocre defense can only make a super bowl run with an electric offense, hence why Tennessee felt they needed to add Julio. The Titans have Ryan Tannehill on a relatively cost-effective deal, so they have the money to take on Julio’s salary (an average of 13.8 million dollars over 3 seasons.) 

Julio is still a premier wide receiver in the league. Last season, Jones averaged 2.70 yards per route run, per player profiler, good for 3rd in the league. Julio also ranked third in average depth of target and 7th in QB rating when targeted. If Julio is even 85 percent of his Atlanta self with the Titans, this acquisition is a homerun.

Fringe NFC Contenders

Julio Jones is now out of the NFC, and every team that did not attempt to trade for Julio is ecstatic. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said that he would have loved to acquire Julio, but the next best destination is the AFC. Teams in the NFC have one less top wide receiver to gameplan around.

The biggest NFC winner is likely the Saints, as they would have played the Falcons twice. With suspect cornerback depth behind Marshon Lattimore, but during their bouts with the Falcons, they will not have to focus on Julio anymore. The Saints should be expected to defeat the Falcons twice during the season, giving them a chance at a wildcard spot. The Giants, 49ers, Football Team, and Cowboys all also may be more likely to make the playoffs after the Julio move, as all those teams play the Falcons in 2021. 

Losers

Atlanta Falcons

If I am only evaluating the Titans and Falcons deal involving Julio Jones, there is no clear loser. An aging, veteran wide receiver does not often go for a first-round pick. However, the circumstances surrounding the deal make Atlanta feel like they mishandled Julio. 

Every report suggests that new General Manager Terry Fontenot and Head Coach Arthur Smith were made aware of Julio’s trade request before the draft. The Falcons’ brain trust should have reevaluated their draft strategy and looked to deal Julio earlier. The main gripe with the Falcons’ handling of Jones stems from how they dealt with their quarterback position.

The Falcons re-structured Matt Ryan’s contract, making him virtually immovable for at least two seasons. The restructure signals that the Falcons are committed to competing in 2021. However, if the Falcons knew that Julio wanted out, which they did, they should not have made such an effort to win now. The Falcons then selected Kyle Pitts, a generational tight end/wide receiver hybrid with the fourth pick. The Falcons effectively drafted Julio’s replacement instead of Matt Ryan’s replacement in the first round. Justin Fields, the elite Ohio State passer, was still on the board with the fourth pick in the draft. If Fields makes even one pro bowl during his career, he will likely have a far greater impact on his team than Kyle Pitts could ever make. If the Falcons were intent on dealing Julio Jones, they should have kept Ryan’s contract, drafted Justin Fields, and cut Ryan after the 2021 season. 

Indianapolis Colts

An under-the-radar loser of the Julio Jones deal is the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts have a thin wide receiver room, so not acquiring Julio is already a missed opportunity. Julio landing within the Colts’ division with the Titans is even worse for Indianapolis. The Colts now are tasked with facing the trio of A.J. Brown, Derrick Henry, and Julio Jones twice during the season. If the Colts want to win the division, they will have to see a much-improved Carson Wentz. 

The Carson Wentz trade that the Colts made before the draft further complicates their situation. The Colts owe their first-round selection to the Eagles if Wentz plays 75 percent of the offensive snaps, or 70 percent of the snaps, and the Colts clinch a playoff berth. There is a likely scenario where the Colts will be forced to play Wentz until the end of the season to make the playoffs, but the team ultimately falls short. If this is the case, the Colts will be without a playoff berth and first-round draft selection, setting their franchise back. 

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