Despite reports the Atlanta Falcons are actively shopping Julio Jones, the team is reportedly only listening to offers rather than being the initiator.
ESPN's Jeremy Fowler said on SportsCenter on Sunday the Patriots are a team worth monitoring in discussions but that the Falcons are also open to Jones returning in 2021:
"I've talked to a few teams who are at least wondering if the New England Patriots get involved here, because they've had an aggressive offseason in free agency with all of those signings they made. They have $16.2 million in cap space to take on a bloated salary like Julio's. And Jones and quarterback Cam Newton go way back from those Auburn-Alabama rivalry Iron Bowl days, and those days in the NFC South together. They're both around the same age, so at the very least, they are friendly. Now, I checked in on this. There's nothing going on right now. You know, the Patriots typically talk internally about a lot of potential options that are out there. So, I'm sure they've had a discussion; nothing moving there right now. But a source in Atlanta told me, 'Look, we are still in the listening phase right now. We are not initiating talks, and there's still a chance Jones is in a Falcons uniform next year.' But the Patriots are probably one of several teams to watch here."
The Falcons can save $15.3 million in cap space by trading Jones after June 1. The Patriots still have a major hole at the top of their wide receiver depth chart that would instantly be solved by Jones, a seven-time Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer who just turned 32 in February.
Atlanta's decision to move on from Jones would seemingly be at odds with its decision-making all offseason. It would have been understandable if the team sought to strip the roster down to its bare parts after posting a 4-12 season and hiring a new general manager (Terry Fontenot) and head coach (Arthur Smith).
However, the Falcons essentially committed to at least one more year of attempting to compete for the AFC South by restructuring the contract of Matt Ryan and drafting tight end Kyle Pitts fourth overall. The Falcons could have selected Justin Fields at No. 4 while seeking out trades for Ryan and Jones to begin a full-scale rebuild.
Moving on from Jones now would be a crippling blow for a Falcons team that is already going to be heavily reliant on its offense to compete in 2021. Jones missed seven games because of injury last season but was still one of the most effective receivers in football when he was on the field. In fact, his 75 percent catch rate blasted his previous career high.
Calvin Ridley showed he's a more than capable WR1 in Jones' absence last season, but the Falcons would have one of the sport's most dynamic trio of pass-catchers in Ridley, Jones and Pitts next season. Testing out the waters of how things go under Smith seems like the more prudent decision, and Jones will still have significant trade value while not carrying such an exorbitant cap hit.