The seeds of Julio Jones' discontent with the Atlanta Falcons may have begun as far back as 2019, as team chairman Arthur Blank tells it.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Blank said Jones felt the contract Atlanta extended to him that year—a three-year, $66 million deal—wasn't enough for a player who, at the time, was arguably the best wideout in the NFL.
"Look back at the Julio situation in 2019," Blank said (h/t The Athletic's Jeff Schultz). "We, being [GM Thomas Dimitroff], coach Quinn, the player and his agent [Jimmy Sexton], were all kind of at odds with each other. We got a contract done. We felt it was very generous. It made him the top paid receiver in NFL history. But for whatever reason, he felt it wasn't sufficient respect. I don't know why he'd feel that way, but he did feel that way."
The Falcons traded Jones and a 2023 sixth-round pick to the Tennessee Titans this offseason for a second-round pick in 2022 and a fourth-round pick in 2023.
Jones led the league in receiving yards in 2018 with 1,677 and eight touchdowns. He came right back in 2019 with 1,394 receiving yards but played just nine games with 771 yards in 2020, finishing with fewer than 1,000 yards receiving for the first time since 2013 (580 yards in five games).
Blank wanted Jones to remain a Falcon for life. Now he struggles to utter that phrase again.
"Look, he gave us 10 great years," Blank said. "He's going to be a Hall of Fame player. He was a good teammate for all that period of time. [But] his ability or willingness to practice the way he did early in his career was different. There were some people who were in the building who had an effect on him. He wanted out, and the last thing coach [Arthur] Smith wants is a player who doesn't want to be here."
The trade may end up as a catalyst for a much-needed rebuild in Atlanta. With a few top picks in hand, the Falcons can build around the likes of tight end Kyle Pitts and wideout Calvin Ridley.
As the career of quarterback Matt Ryan reaches its final chapters, a top passer in this year's draft could be the difference on offense. Whomever Atlanta takes with the picks Tennessee sent for Jones, Blank will do his best not to get too attached.
"Well, I would say the purpose of [saying I wanted Jones to remain a Falcon for life] was very well-intended," Blank said. "I probably won't use it because, as things turn out, obviously, where I've used it a couple of times, it turns out not to be true. It's really a sign of respect and intent."