Which NFL Teams Should Push Hardest to Trade for Julio Jones?

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMay 24, 2021

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) warms up before an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Atlanta. The New Orleans Saints won 21-16. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)
Danny Karnik/Associated Press

It has been an active market for trades across the National Football League in 2021. We've already seen a pair of Pro Bowl offensive linemen traded…by the same team. We've seen two quarterbacks who were once the first overall pick in the NFL draft get dealt…for one another.

And there continues to be speculation that we could see a mega-deal involving the reigning league MVP.

Now, talk has shifted to the possibility that one of the best wide receivers of his generation could be traded.

There has actually been chatter that Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones could be traded for some time. The Falcons are ostensibly engaging in at least a partial rebuild after a 4-12 2020 campaign led to a regime change. Jones is a 32-year-old wideout who carries a cap hit north of $23 million in 2021 and is coming off his second-worst season of his career in terms of yardage and receptions.

Editor's NoteUndisputed's Shannon Sharpe called Jones during Monday's show and asked him if he wanted to be traded to the Dallas Cowboys or stay in Atlanta. "I'm out of there," Jones responded before adding that he wasn't interested in a trade to Dallas. More context was added later Monday via NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and ESPN's Adam Schefter.

As ESPN's Michael Rothstein reported, given Atlanta's rather tenuous salary cap situation and the state of the franchise, new general manager Terry Fontenot admitted in April that the Falcons would at least listen to offers for their star wideout.

“The answer to that is just pointing to the cap and pointing to the fact that we’ll answer calls on any players. When teams ask about players, we have to answer those calls and we have to listen because we do have to, we knew when we stepped into this, we were going to have to make some tough decisions because it is just the reality of it. That’s where we are with the salary cap, so we have to make some difficult decisions.”

Jones may be coming off an injury-marred 2020 season, but interest in his services is guaranteed to be robust. In 10 professional seasons, he has eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards seven times and 1,500 receiving yards three times. He caught at least 100 passes in three different seasons, including a ridiculous 136/1,871/8 stat line in 2015. As recently as 2019, he caught 99 passes for 1,394 yards and six scores on the way to his seventh Pro Bowl.

John Bazemore/Associated Press

So long as he's healthy, Jones is still a very dangerous wide receiver.

Of course, wanting Jones is only half the equation. The list of teams who would like to roster him is probably about 31 franchises long. There's also the matter of making a trade offer the Falcons find acceptable.

According to Bill Huber of Packers Central, one NFL executive said he'd be willing to give up a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick for Jones. He also allowed that may not be enough to get the deal done and Atlanta may well be seeking a first-rounder as the centerpiece of a trade package.

“Giving up a one is too much,” he said. “Honestly, a two is too much but it’s the price, I’m sure.”

So long as reports continue that Jones is available, so will speculation that connects him to every team from Arizona to Washington and all parts between. But there are a handful of contending teams that stand out as clubs who should get Fontenot on the horn and make like Wayne Brady.

Or Monty Hall, if you're a little older.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens have been linked to Jones from the moment whispers emerged that he might be available.

However, given all the work the team has already done on the receiving corps (including signing Sammy Watkins and drafting Rashod Bateman in Round 1 this year), just $9.8 million in cap space per Over the Cap and an impending extension for quarterback Lamar Jackson, the odds of Baltimore GM Eric DeCosta making a play for Jones aren’t great.

Dave Martin/Associated Press

Still, there's no denying that adding Jones would take Baltimore's receiver room to a whole new level—making the Ravens an even bigger threat to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC than they already are. Jeff Zrebiec of the Athletic admitted that a Jones trade isn't likely, but he posited that a deal including a couple of draft picks and a player like young wideout Miles Boykin can't be discounted entirely.

"It would be easy to rule them out on Jones," Zrebiec wrote. "Yet, fixing the receiver position has been an offseason obsession for DeCosta, and Jones' talent is enticing. Consider the Ravens an unlikely suitor, but don't rule them out completely."

Cleveland Browns

There may not be a more hyped team in the NFL this year than the Cleveland Browns, and unlike two years ago, this time the hype actually appears well-placed. The Browns are coming off an 11-win season and their first playoff win in over 25 years.

A trade for Julio Jones would send that hype into, well, hyperdrive.

Imagine, if you will, an offense consisting of the best offensive line in the NFL (according to Pro Football Focus), the best one-two punch in the backfield in the league (Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb) and Jones, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry at wide receiver.

David Richard/Associated Press

That thud you just heard was Baker Mayfield fainting.

Yes, the finances of bringing Jones in would be tricky, especially with extensions looming for Mayfield, Chubb and cornerback Denzel Ward. But Ward and Mayfield are under team control through 2023. The franchise tag is an option for Chubb. Beckham doesn't have a dime of guaranteed money left on his deal after this season. And the Browns are sitting on about $21 million in cap space.

There is more creative accounting than that going on in half a dozen NFL cities (looking at you, New Orleans). And there would be something oddly poetic about Jones being dealt to the team that originally had the rights to the pick used to draft him in 2011.


Green Bay Packers

Most of the trade talk in Titletown of late has centered on the team's (allegedly) disgruntled quarterback.

But one incredibly effective way for the team to mend fences with Aaron Rodgers would be to pair Jones with Davante Adams to give Green Bay the most formidable duo at wide receiver in all of the NFL.

"Hey Aaron! We got you a present!"

Tom Lynn/Associated Press

The biggest sticking point for a deal involving Jones and the Packers isn't hard to figure out. Green Bay is currently sitting on less than $3 million in cap space. That's not enough to sign James Jones, much less Julio—and James Jones hasn't played since 2015.

But as Mike Florio reported for Pro Football Talk, the Pack could free up a boatload of cap space by restructuring Adams' contract. There's also the matter of Rodgers' deal—a re-do there could both free up even more wiggle room and give Rodgers the guaranteed cabbage he seeks.

If there's a team on this list that should be willing to throw a 2022 first at Atlanta, it's the Packers. If it meant smoothing things over with their MVP quarterback and striking fear into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it would be worth it.


New England Patriots

This destination may be the most likely of the lot. According to Michael Holley of NBC Sports Boston (per colleague Darren Hartwell), Jones has expressed a desire to join Cam Newton in New England.

"You know who (Jones) really wants to play with? ... He wants to play with Cam Newton. He likes Cam," Holley said. "That's the other thing: He thinks (Falcons quarterback) Matt Ryan has lost a little zing on his deep ball."

In news that should surprise exactly zero people, the interest is mutual. The NFL Network's Mike Giardi reported (via Adam Maya) that the Pats have had "internal discussions" about making a play for Jones.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

The Patriots were active in free agency in trying to bolster the wide receivers, adding Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. But Bourne and Agholor have combined for exactly seven fewer 1,000-yard seasons than Jones.

The Patriots are relatively well-positioned against the salary cap, with about $16 million in wiggle room. Jones would be the unquestioned No. 1 target in the passing game for a Patriots team trying desperately not to fall any farther behind the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills in the AFC East.

The biggest sticking point may be selling Jones on a Newton-less New England. After drafting Alabama's Mac Jones 15th overall in 2021, it's just a matter of time until the youngster takes over under center.


Tennessee Titans

Coming off consecutive playoff appearances, the Tennessee offense has a lot going for it. Ryan Tannehill has emerged as a quality starter under center in Nashville. The Titans have the two-time defending rushing champ in Derrick Henry. The team has a budding superstar at wide receiver in A.J. Brown.

The problem is that outside of Brown, the depth chart at wide receiver dries up quickly. Free-agent acquisition Josh Reynolds is a capable veteran in the slot, but that's about it. Dez Fitzpatrick is a talented but unproven rookie.

If the Titans see themselves as a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the AFC, then improving one of the weakest position groups on the roster with the addition of Jones makes a lot of sense. He and Brown would be quite the terrible twosome on the outside, especially given the number of stacked fronts Henry sees.

Henry certainly appears to like the idea.

Derrick Henry  @KingHenry_2

TITAN TF UP ⚔️ https://t.co/LOuqC2mH70

Per Terry McCormick of Titans Insider, Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson declined to comment when asked about a potential trade for Jones. And with just $3.6 million in cap space, fitting Jones salary under the cap would take some doing.

But if Tennessee could figure out a way to make the numbers work, the Titans would be the no-doubt favorites in the AFC South.