The clock is ticking, and Julio Jones' time with the Atlanta Falcons appears to be coming to an end. Where will he land, and how much will the Falcons receive in return?
The market for the wide receiver should heat up in the coming days as we reach June 1, when Atlanta can save $15.3 million by trading the seven-time Pro Bowl selection.
Just in the last few days, the price seemingly escalated for Jones' services.
Initially, NBC Sports' Peter King estimated the wide receiver's price tag would be around a second-round selection. ESPN's Jeff Darlington echoed King's price point with a second- or even third-round return. At least one team has discussed the possibility of flipping a first-round pick to acquire Jones, according to ESPN's Dianna Russini.
A confluence of factors limits Jones' overall value.
First, new general manager Terry Fontenot continues to dig the franchise out of salary-cap hell. Currently, the Falcons have $1.6 million in available space, per Spotrac. Even at the newly agreed-upon salary-cap ceiling next season—$208.2 million from this year's $182.5 million—which will be dependent on this year's total revenue, the Falcons will be in a crunch as one of the 10 franchises with the least financial flexibility.
A Jones trade doesn't just create more cap space now. The team can also roll over what it doesn't use into next year's number on top of Jones no longer being on the roster.
Second, the Falcons have had the two-time receiving yardage leader on the trade block for some time. Discussions likely started long before April's draft.
Teams are well aware of the sense of urgency in Atlanta's front office and won't hesitate to exploit that to get a deal done in their favor.
Third, injuries are an issue. The 32-year-old missed seven games last season primarily because of a lingering hamstring issue.
"People still have to pay attention to him," a pro scouting director told Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer. "But the last couple years, when he's not healthy, you're limited with what he can do within the offense since there are certain routes he can't run. That limits where they line him up, and some coordinators are smart enough to figure out what he can and can't run."
Also, Jones wants out of Atlanta and hasn't kept his intentions secret.
On top of everything, a trade this late in the offseason could limit potential suitors, though almost every squad should look into landing the wide receiver.
Atlanta won't have significant leverage in potential talks. The best the Falcons can hope for is a bidding war to ensure a solid return for one of the league's biggest names and the room to breathe the organization desperately needs from a financial perspective.
Jones reportedly identified two teams of interest, while two others stand out on account of their salary-cap standing and potential to win this fall. What each should be willing to offer varies, though.
New England Patriots
Of all the teams that should show interest in Jones, the Patriots have the most going in their favor.
New England is one of two preferred landing spots mentioned by NBC Sports' Chris Simms.
Interestingly, Cam Newton—not former Alabama quarterback and 2021 first-round pick Mac Jones—is a significant selling point.
"You know who [Jones] really wants to play with? ... He wants to play with Cam Newton. He likes Cam," NBC Sports Boston's Michael Holley said. "That's the other thing: He thinks [Falcons quarterback] Matt Ryan has lost a little zing on his deep ball."
A Newton partnership may be enticing, but Jones is no slouch, especially as a vertical passer. This year's 15th overall pick posted the third-best downfield passing grade over the last two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus' Andrew Erickson. Even if the 2015 league MVP isn't in the lineup, the move to the rookie shouldn't be viewed as a non-starter.
Despite the Patriots' huge splash in free agency, the team still has plenty of wiggle room, too. Currently, New England has the seventh-most cap space at a projected $20.6 million. The franchise can put the bow on top of an already impressive offseason with Jones' acquisition. The 10-year veteran would give the Patriots lineup a true X-receiver to play alongside the free-agent additions of Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne.
Bill Belichick and Co. have a long track record of winning. That's what Jones wants, among other things. With an elite wide receiver added to the mix, the Patriots should be well on their way toward reentering the playoff picture.
Trade Package: Patriots trade 2022 second- and fourth-round picks to the Falcons for Jones.
San Francisco 49ers
Familiarity often becomes a strong selling point, and the 49ers coaching staff knows Jones well.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan previously served as the Falcons offensive coordinator, of course. Offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel spent two seasons as Shanahan's offensive assistant in Atlanta.
"Anyone I've coached in the past that I have relationships with, especially a great dude like Julio, obviously I have a ton of respect for," Shanahan told reporters when asked about the possibility of a trade.
"We're always interested in improving our team. We'll never just say, 'Hey, we're done, we can't improve our team.' You always try to try to make that happen."
The 49ers don't have to be done. Like the Patriots, San Francisco has enough financial wiggle room to take on Jones' contract as it currently stands.
One can't help but imagine what Jones could do upon returning to Shanahan's offensive scheme. The wide receiver's best season came under the coach's direction. Granted, Jones is older with some limitations due to previous injuries. No one is better than Shanahan at crafting an offensive scheme around his available talent.
But San Francisco doesn't have the number of trade assets other teams do after swinging the deal to draft quarterback Trey Lance. As a result, the 49ers don't own next year's first- or original third-round picks.
Trade Package: 49ers trade 2022 second-round and 2023 fourth-round draft picks to the Falcons for Jones.
For the Colts to enter the fray, they have to find a workaround for the Carson Wentz trade.
In order to land the team's new starting quarterback, general manager Chris Ballard traded a conditional 2022 second-round pick. The selection will become a first-round pick if Wentz A) plays at least 75 percent of the Colts' offensive snaps or B) plays 70 percent of those snaps and Indianapolis makes the postseason.
Odds are that the Philadelphia Eagles will land the Colts' first-round selection, but it's not a given.
As such, a potential trade package for Jones will have to be creative. The move could be well worth the effort.
Right now, the AFC South is there for the taking. Last season, the Colts and Tennessee Titans (more on them in a moment) finished with 11-5 records and split their season series. Tennessee won the division based on a slightly better conference record.
However, the Colts addressed their three biggest needs this offseason with Wentz's acquisition, Eric Fisher's signing to replace Anthony Castonzo at left tackle and Kwity Paye's selection in this year's first round to provide an edge presence.
Indianapolis is solid at wide receiver, but Jones would provide something different. He's a faster downfield threat than Michael Pittman Jr., whereas T.Y. Hilton and Zach Pascal are better at working off the line or in the slot.
Jones would give Wentz a true No. 1 wide receiver for the first time in the quarterback's career.
Trade Package: Colts trade 2022 third-round pick and a 2023 second-round pick to the Falcons for Jones.
The Titans have a lot of work to do if they want to land Jones and gain a definitive advantage in the AFC South.
Despite being the other team Jones prefers, Tennessee doesn't have the financial means to take on the receiver's contract. The franchise has less than $4 million in available cap space.
Technically, general manager Jon Robinson could swing a deal and immediately rework Jones' contract, thus making the move feasible. Contract renegotiations with other individuals already on the team could happen as well. The salary cap is an obstacle but is not an insurmountable one.
Jones would immediately step in and cover a significant portion of the 157 targets Tennessee lost with Corey Davis' and Jonnu Smith's free-agent departures. A.J. Brown, who led the team in receiving yardage last season, certainly wouldn't be upset about adding a target of Jones' caliber since the Pro Bowler was on social media opining about the possibility.
Tennessee's offense is built to push the ball downfield. Jones would immediately add another facet to a unit that already has punishing running back Derrick Henry, Brown's ability to create after the catch and Ryan Tannehill's effective deep ball.
Unsurprisingly, the Titans have been active in trying to woo the Falcons. But Russini reported Tennessee is "a long shot" to acquire Jones.
How about a Hail Mary? Maybe the Titans are the team that finally caves and gives up a coveted first-round selection, since Tennessee will likely be selecting in the back half of the frame anyhow. They should be willing to take the risk if they hope to usurp the Kansas City Chiefs' standing as the AFC's best squad.
Trade Package: Titans trade a 2022 first-round pick to the Falcons for Jones.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.