Atlanta needs to replace Julio Jones after his season-ending injury. The best candidate to do this is New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks. Atlanta is rumored to be interested in the Giants' wide receiver, according to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora:
Among the teams holding internal discussions about him, according to club sources, were the 49ers and Falcons (who lost Julio Jones for the season but are not conceding the season … at least certainly not yet). New England and Baltimore are also contending teams in need of an upgrade at receiver, and the market for Nicks would be robust, sources believe, if the Giants express a willingness to listen to offers.
The 6'1", 208-pound receiver can be a long-term solution for the Falcons and shouldn't cost too much in terms of initial investment. The Falcons could get him as a rental, but they would be unwise to bring him in without re-signing him as part of the deal.
He could cost as much as a third-round pick. But that would be worth it long-term over attempting to replace Roddy White with the same selection. Plus, the Falcons could easily work him into their cap situation should they decide to bring him in.
Hakeem Nicks could replace Julio Jones for 2013...
Julio Jones was the only deep threat the Falcons had for the 2013 season.
Hakeem Nicks would be able to provide the deep threat that Jones provided. He has already shown that ability through his five-year career with the Giants.
Over the past season-and-a-half, he's caught five balls thrown over 20 yards in the air. He's also able to work the intermediate routes of a defense similar to what Roddy White is able to do. He can provide an excellent threat out of the slot or out wide.
In that regard, he's able to perform a different role in the future from Jones while still providing a complement to White and Tony Gonzalez for this season. He's a true No. 2 receiver and would at a minimum allow the Falcons to have a legitimate vertical threat.
...and Roddy White for 2015 and beyond
While Hakeem Nicks could easily bring the explosive element for the Falcons in 2013, the combination of White, Julio Jones and Nicks could be dominant in 2014.
However, Roddy White will be 33 once his contract runs out at the end of the 2014 season.
He could easily retire at that age with the 10 years of NFL wear and tear on his body and over $50 million in career earnings. That would leave the Falcons with a hole on their roster that they could preemptively fill with Nicks a year-and-a-half early.
The Falcons would have to re-sign the fifth-year player to a contract after the 2013 season. While it seems like it's a bad idea to try and keep three top receivers, the Falcons need to replace Tony Gonzalez for the 2014 season anyway.
Nicks could easily be the complementary piece to Jones long-term and should fit in well in the Falcons' locker room. Giving him the extra year-and-a-half to get in sync with Matt Ryan and the rest of the offense before White retires would be a great idea.
But what would the cap situation look like?
Currently the Falcons have 45 players under contract for the 2014 season and only have $112.3 million committed to the cap. The Falcons have 19 of their 22 opening day starters under contract.
Considering one of them is future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, they only have two spots to really worry about. And it's not going to cost more than $7-8 million to take care of the defensive tackle starters' cap hits for the 2014 season.
They could easily afford to pay Hakeem Nicks to be Gonzalez's 2014 replacement and Roddy White's 2015-and-beyond replacement. Considering every top-10 wide receiver has a cap hit over $8 million, it's safe to say that Nicks shouldn't cost more than that.
He's not a top-10 receiver and doesn't have the ability to claim he should be. With Julio Jones looking at a long-term deal paying him around $9-10 million per year, paying Nicks $6-7 million per year would be easy to do. Especially since there would be no $5-plus million hit for Gonzalez or $8-plus million hit for White.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.