There have been rumblings for some time that star wide receiver Julio Jones could be traded—rumblings that kicked into overdrive when the 32-year-old said in reference to his status with the Atlanta Falcons, "I'm outta there."
Well, Jones' prediction came to fruition Sunday, when the seven-time Pro Bowler was traded to the Tennessee Titans. It's a move that sent shockwaves across the AFC—and vaults the Titans toward the top of the list of candidates to dethrone the Kansas City Chiefs atop the conference.
With the Falcons up against the salary cap and Jones reportedly desiring to play for a contender as his career winds down, the 11th-year veteran had been linked to a fistful of teams over the past couple of weeks.
But it was the Titans who managed to get the deal done. Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the Titans sent their second-round pick in 2022 and a fourth-round pick in 2023 to Atlanta for Jones and a sixth-round pick in 2023. Tennessee will also assume Jones' $15.3 million salary this year and the remainder of his contract.
For Atlanta, the deal is about cap relief as much as anything. Per Over The Cap, even after absorbing a dead cap hit of $7.75 million, the Falcons will still clear over $15 million off the books—money that is badly needed to get a rookie class headlined by tight end Kyle Pitts signed.
Those financial savings have to be a big hit with the Atlanta fanbase.
For Tennessee, it's a huge step toward fielding one of the most explosive offenses in the AFC—and one hell of a way to fix the team's need at wide receiver.
The Titans added pieces at the position in the draft and free agency, signing veteran slot receiver Josh Reynolds and selecting Louisville's Dez Fitzpatrick in the fourth round. But after losing wideout Corey Davis and tight end Jonnu Smith, the Tennessee passing game had ostensibly taken a step backward this offseason.
When it became apparent that Jones could be available, any number of veteran players across the league started lobbying to acquire him on social media, including Titans wideout A.J. Brown.
"Just come mess with your boy," Brown said on Instagram (h/t Zac Al-Khateeb of Sporting News). "Hey, real talk: We waiting on you over here. You say you want to win, right? We just need a couple more pieces. Hey, trust me. Come vibe with me, man."
Now that Brown's wish has been granted, the third-year wideout had another message for the rest of the league.
Language aside, he's not wrong.
Brown has quickly established himself as one of the more dangerous wide receivers in the NFL. In each of his professional seasons, Brown has topped 1,000 receiving yards and scored at least eight touchdowns. He averages over 17 yards a reception for his career and checked in at No. 6 in the wide receiver rankings published recently by Anthony Treash of Pro Football Focus.
"Brown went from the 51st overall pick in 2019 to rookie phenom to one of the NFL's few elite wide receivers in just a couple of years. After putting up an 83.0 receiving grade in Year 1 that ranked 10th among wide receivers, Brown posted a 90.1 mark in Year 2 that ranked third. He has generated 2.66 yards per route run in those two years combined, edging out Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown for the highest mark PFF has ever recorded from a wide receiver in their first two NFL seasons (minimum 700 routes).
"Brown is the leader of the next generation of star wide receivers."
Now, Brown will line up opposite one of the best wide receivers of his generation—and the player who checked in one slot ahead of him in those PFF rankings.
Yes, Jones is on the wrong side of 30 and coming off one of the worst seasons of his NFL career in 2020; he missed seven games and recorded the second-lowest touchdown and yardage numbers of his decade in the league. We may well never see another campaign from Jones like the ridiculous 136/1,871/8 line he posted in 2015.
But we're talking about a player who has topped 1,000 yards in a season seven times. He has caught over 100 passes three times. Out of every wide receiver in NFL history, the list of players who have averaged more receiving yards per game than Jones (95.5) has exactly zero names on it, and it's not even close. As recently as two years ago, Jones caught 99 passes for almost 1,400 yards.
It's a waking nightmare for opposing secondaries. The Titans now have the most lethal one-two punch at the position in the league. You can't double-team both wideouts, and the one who's in single coverage is going to eat. A lot. Whenever he wants.
Reynolds can now kick full-time into the slot, where he showed with the Los Angeles Rams that he can make a significant contribution. Both he and young tight end Anthony Firkser will be running free over the middle with regularity—assuming defenses bother to cover them at all.
And that's without even mentioning the Tennessee run game.
All Derrick Henry has done the past two years is pile up over 3,500 rushing yards and 33 scores on the ground, lead the league in rushing in consecutive seasons and notch a 2,000-yard season in 2020.
The addition of Jones presents opponents with a Kobayashi Maru scenario when facing the Titans. Stack the box in an (possibly futile) effort to keep Henry in check, and either Jones or Brown is all but certainly going to get behind the defense for a chunk play. Play soft in an (again, possibly futile) effort to prevent that chunk play, and Henry is absolutely going to cram the football down your throat.
With a quarterback in Ryan Tannehill who has shown since joining the team that he is more than capable of conducting this symphony of destruction, you have an offense with the potential to be terrifying in 2021. An offense capable of hanging with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills or Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.
Now, that offense alone won't make the Titans the front-runners in the AFC. Or necessarily even the front-runners to knock off Kansas City. Tennessee still has issues, primarily related to the fourth-worst pass defense in the league in 2020.
But adding Jones to the Titans offense was still a massive get—a sign that last year's loss to the Ravens in the wild-card round was unacceptable.
If the Titans offense with Jones in the fold looks half as good on the field as it does on paper, Tennessee is capable of making it three games further into the playoffs…
To Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles.