Will this Falcon Take Flight for Another Franchise?

Nov 8, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) runs against Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons (31) after a catch during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

News broke this morning that Atlanta might consider trading stalwart wide receiver Julio Jones. Any potential trade would consummate after June 2nd. By waiting until after June 2nd, Atlanta can create $15.3 million in cap space for the 2021 season and push a large majority of the dead cap hit into 2022. The Falcons find themselves up against the cap, with just less than 1 million in space, heading into the draft. 

Why the Falcons Would Do It

Atlanta, like most teams this off-season, finds themselves in a salary-cap crunch hell. They currently do not have enough room under the cap to sign their draft picks. They do, however, find themselves in prime position to select the draft’s best overall player in Kyle Pitts. Pitts profiles to have the best chance at a Hall of Fame career out of all draft-eligible players. Pitts would be able to step in immediately and relieve some of the pressure of losing Jones. 

There is no silver bullet for Atlanta that gives them immediate cap relief for 2021. A post-June 2nd trade will split the dead cap money over the 2021 and 2022 seasons. With Calvin Ridley establishing himself as an “X” worthy option and the emergence of Russell Gage last season, the time might be now for Atlanta to move on from Jones. 

They should be able to command a first or second-round draft pick in the 2022 draft (due to the post-June 2nd trade) on top of the cap relief. There are a few teams that should be interested in making such a deal.

Let’s Make a Deal, the Frontrunners

The Baltimore Ravens should top the list of teams clamoring for Jones. The one thing quarterback Lamar Jackson has been missing is a bonafide #1 wide receiver. Jones would provide that and more, allowing for Hollywood Brown to fall back into a secondary role that better suits his skill set. The Ravens also have the cap space and draft capital needed to pull off such a deal. 

With two first-round picks in 2021, they can potentially package one of those picks to a team looking to get back into the first round. The return they should seek, if a Jones deal is imminent, would be an early-round 2022 pick. Either this pick or one of their own first or second-round picks would then be packaged for Jones. 

The New England Patriots will also need to be watched as a potential landing spot for this Falcon. There is an untold secret within NFL circles regarding the competitive gamesmanship between head coach Bill Belichick and former quarterback Tom Brady. With Brady leaving for Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl, Belichick has some catching up to do. That has been evident this off-season as the Patriots have seemingly signed every available free agent. 

I imagine that “spending” continues in the draft with New England moving up to grab a quarterback in the first round. So long as they haven’t emptied the proverbial clip for that quarterback, Bill should have no problem emptying the remainder to secure the services of Jones.

Not Ready for the Big Show, but Still Might Deal

The Cincinnati Bengals will have the cap space to absorb Jones’s contract and might find it best to accelerate the team’s timeline. They will most likely look to bolster the offensive line in the 2021 draft to protect quarterback Joe Burrow. Sending out 2022 draft capital to give Burrow a true #1 would make a lot of sense and immediately put them in play for the AFC North crown.

The Detroit Lions have the future assets and cap space to swing a deal as well. They also lack the top-tier talent at the wide receiver position that teams typically covet. The Lions decided to let Kenny Golladay walk in free agency, opting not to place the franchise tag on him. A move for Jones would solidify their wide receiver position, but still leaves the team lacking in other areas on their roster. 

The Indianapolis Colts and Washington Football Team would make a lot of sense as well. They are both in need of another wide receiver this off-season and one with Jones’s pedigree does not come available that often. Both teams have the cap space to absorb such a deal, but both have complicated factors that might prevent such a deal from happening. 

The Colts, via the Carson Wentz deal, won’t be able to trade either their first or second-round pick in 2022 unless they adjust the deal with the Eagles to remove the protections. The WFT have the future draft assets to make a deal, but will potentially be packaging them to move up for a quarterback this year. 

Hot ‘Lanta Finds a Way

Atlanta most likely finds a way to retain the face of their franchise. They will need to get creative with the cap to do so. Negotiating additional voidable years with some current players should be on the table. Dante Fowler being the most likely candidate for such a deal. A trade of Jones is not completely off the table but is something Atlanta should avoid if they can.