Julio Jones is finally on the move and the trade happened on a Sunday, so Shannon Sharpe couldn’t call the receiver live on the air and break the news.
The All-Pro receiver is on his way from the Atlanta Falcons to the Tennessee Titans in a deal first reported by ESPN’s Dianna Russini. The trade is not yet official, with the Titans needing to make arrangements to fit Jones under their salary cap, so exact terms of the deal haven’t been announced. But according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Atlanta will receive at least a second-round draft pick in return for the 10-year veteran.
Jones gives the Titans a top big-play receiving threat to pair with A.J. Brown. Tennessee had lost two of its best pass-catchers in free agency with receiver Corey Davis leaving for the New York Jets and the New England Patriots getting tight end Jonnu Smith.
Last season for the Falcons, Jones was limited to only nine games due to hamstring injuries. He caught 51 passes for 771 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 15.1 yards per reception.
But if healthy, Jones is a definite upgrade at receiver for the Titans. Yes, he’s 32 years old and has endured 10 years of NFL play. However, Jones is two seasons removed from a 113-catch, 1,967-yard, and eight-touchdown season for Atlanta. That far surpasses the production Davis and Brown provided at wideout last year.
Jones is under contract for three more seasons and $38 million. (He’s already been paid $25 million in signing bonus from the contract extension he signed in 2019.) The Falcons wanted to trim Jones’s salary from their payroll to create room under the salary cap to fit new players like No. 1 pick Kyle Pitts.
But his $15 million number for 2021 was a difficult one for several other interested teams — such as the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, and New England Patriots — to fit in with draft picks and free agents to sign, along with other contracts needing to be worked out. That probably limited his trade market more than Atlanta would’ve preferred and prevented the Falcons from getting the first-round pick they reportedly wanted.
The Falcons were also concerned that Jones saying he was “outta” Atlanta while speaking with Shannon Sharpe on Fox Sports’ Undisputed, in a phone conversation Jones was apparently unaware was broadcast live on the air, might affect the team’s leverage in making a trade. But Jones’s talent superseded any potential concerns and interested teams that wanted to add a big-play receiver weren’t dissuaded.
Last season, the Titans won the AFC South in a tie-breaker over the Indianapolis Colts but lost in the Wild-Card round to the Baltimore Ravens. Yet Tennessee did finish fourth overall in the AFC and adding Jones could give them a boost over competition like the Ravens, Colts, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers while attempting to keep up with the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills.
Only the Bills scored more points than the Titans among AFC teams, but Tennessee’s passing offense ranked 10th in the conference and 23rd in the NFL. No one might be more aware of that than current Falcons head coach Arthur Smith, formerly the Titans’ offensive coordinator. So maybe he knew that Jones would be a good fit and helped get this trade done.
Adding Jones should lessen the reliance on running back Derrick Henry, who led the NFL with an astounding 2,027 yards but also endured 378 carries — 66 more than the next closest runner, Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook. But is the Titans’ defense strong enough to contend with the Chiefs’ and Bills’ powerful offenses?