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Why the Packers Are an Ideal Fit for Julio Jones in the Twilight of His Career

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2022

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - MAY 07: Julio Jones attends the game between the Zappers and Beasts during Fan Controlled Football Season v2.0 - Week Four on May 07, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Fan Controlled Football/Getty Images)
Justin Casterline/Fan Controlled Football/Getty Images

Father Time comes for everyone, including the once-dominant Julio Jones.

The wide receiver is available on the free-agent market following an underwhelming, injury-riddled 2021 season. After building a Hall of Fame-worthy resume, Jones is a potential flier for the right team—one that has an elite quarterback and a need at receiver.

While Aaron Rodgers is away from voluntary OTAs, the Green Bay Packers quarterback should flex his recruiting muscles and reach out to Jones months after the team traded two-time All-Pro wideout Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders.

Jones won't completely replace what Adams brought. However, with Rodgers still able to play at an MVP level, the fading star receiver can produce one more highlight season in the twilight of his career.

If Rodgers does play matchmaker, he might not be the only one in town advocating for Jones. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport told the Pat McAfee Show on May 10 the Packers might be interested in a veteran wide receiver, particularly Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr. or Jones: 

Pat McAfee @PatMcAfeeShow

"This is a great WR market for the Packers & I think they're gonna be involved for Jarvis Landry, Julio Jones & OBJ" ~@RapSheet #PMSLive https://t.co/UXRLxnqNFK

Since then, the New Orleans Saints signed Landry. Beckham will probably start the 2022 season on the physically unable to perform list or on injured reserve while he recovers from a torn ACL (suffered in February) for the second time in two years.

Though Jones has missed seven games in each of the last two seasons, he's avoided significant long-term injuries that would require an extensive rehab process.

If the Packers want a veteran wide receiver who can contribute right away, Jones seems like the obvious choice from Rapoport's shortlist of potential candidates.

Furthermore, defensive backs have to account for him over the top. Despite a down year with the Tennessee Titans, he had some vintage moments before a nagging hamstring injury hindered him.

In Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks, Jones looked like the prime Atlanta Falcons version of himself when he hauled in a 51-yard pass from quarterback Ryan Tannehill: 

NFL @NFL

.@JulioJones_11 goes deep for 51 yards! #Titans 📺: #TENvsSEA on CBS 📱: NFL app https://t.co/06ffWqEqvq

Jones finished that game with six receptions for 128 yards. Even though that outing went down as a flash-in-pan performance, he still averaged 14 yards per reception for the campaign, which tied for 26th among all pass-catchers. As the second fiddle to wideout A.J. Brown, Jones also had a solid outing against the Cincinnati Bengals in a divisional playoff matchup, converting seven targets into six receptions for 62 yards.

Imagine what Jones can do while healthy and with a significant upgrade at quarterback. 

During the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Tannehill reached his career peak under former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. After a mediocre six-year run with the Miami Dolphins, he took over for Marcus Mariota and won 2019 Comeback Player of the Year and then threw for a career-high 33 touchdowns in the following campaign.

In 2021, Smith moved on to become the head coach of the Falcons, who coincidentally traded Jones to the Titans in the same offseason, and Tannehill's passing production took a nosedive.

Sure, Jones has experienced issues with durability, mostly because of hamstring injuries over the past two years, but he played in a run-dominant offense that led the league in rush attempts and featured a quarterback who lost his mojo in 2021.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
Packers QB Aaron RodgersMichael Zagaris/Getty Images

In Green Bay, Jones would play with a four-time MVP who just won the honor in back-to-back seasons. This offseason, the Packers made Rodgers the highest-paid player in NFL history, which means they still trust him to sling the ball downfield, but the signal-caller may not have much faith in his group of receivers.

Green Bay selected three wideouts in the 2022 draft: Christian Watson (second round), Romeo Doubs (fourth round) and Samori Toure (seventh round). As unknown commodities, they'll have to earn Rodgers' trust, and the quarterback has delayed that process with his early absence from the offseason program. 

Randall Cobb has played with Rodgers for nine seasons, but he's primarily a slot receiver on a sharp decline. On top of that, the 31-year-old doesn't stretch the field vertically, averaging 12.1 yards per catch for his career.

Second-year wide receiver Amari Rodgers must continue to work on his rapport with Rodgers as the probable replacement for Cobb in the slot. He caught four passes for 45 yards last season.

Allen Lazard could take a significant step in his fifth year, though that's not a guarantee for a player who's made gradual strides with career highs of 40 catches, 513 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

Sammy Watkins could reel in passes downfield, as he's averaging 14.5 yards per career reception, but he's had some inefficiencies in his game, logging catch rates below 58 percent in five out of eight seasons. And like Jones, the 28-year-old has battled injuries that sapped his productivity, missing 10 contests over the past two terms. 

If Watkins continues to miss stretches, Jones can provide the explosive plays on the perimeter. As the two wideouts age, the Packers may need to roster both to ensure a big-play receiver suits up to keep defenses honest with a home run threat on the boundary. In that aspect, Green Bay will miss wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling (17.5 yards per reception for his career), who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst
Packers general manager Brian GutekunstIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

On a modest, incentive-laden deal, Jones could become another cog in a solid wide receiver committee that compensates for the loss of Adams. If he stays healthy, he can cash in on some performance bonuses, but if his body continues to wear down, the Packers would just be on the hook for the base value of his contract.

At this point in Jones' career, he should expect that type of contract structure. Still, he'll likely play in meaningful games through January with the Packers, who have won the NFC North each of the last three seasons.

In the big picture, an agreement between Green Bay and Jones works out for everyone. The Packers would make a low-risk, high-reward acquisition in a former star who may have something left and at worst provides depth. As for Jones, he would play with the best quarterback he's teamed with in his lengthy career. No disrespect to Matt Ryan, but Rodgers has a far better resume and hasn't shown signs of slowing down.

Assuming Rapoport is correct that Jones won't command an eight-figure salary, the Packers' $17 million in cap space is more than enough to take a flier on a receiver who was among the league's top five just a few years ago.

     

Cap-space estimates are provided by Over the Cap.

Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.

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