I’m saddened to write this today, but the Atlanta Falcons have moved on from Julio Jones. We moved him to alleviate cap space, because of injury concerns, and poor front office decisions of past years, but it cannot be overstated that we moved arguably the greatest Falcon to ever don the uniform.
It took two 1sts, one 2nd, and two 4th round picks for the Falcons to move up and bring Julio to Atlanta in 2011 (arguably the best move Thomas Dimitroff ever made as General Manager) and he proceeded to have the best career of any Falcons WR in franchise history. He helped close down the Georgia Dome in spectacular fashion while helping us win the NFC Championship. While year in and year out he was an instant play-maker and immediate threat every time he touched the field.
Julio had 2 injury plagued seasons for the Falcons. One in 2013 with a fractured foot which caused him to only play in 5 games and then in 2020 with a recurring hamstring issue. Like almost every NFL player, he sustained many other countless bumps and bruises along the way but ultimately played in 135 games over his 10 years with the Falcons. He’s a 2-time All Pro and 7 time Pro-Bowler.
His 12,896 Receiving yards rank 1st in team history, as do his 6.3 Receptions per game and 95.5 Yards per game over his career. He’s 2nd in total TDs, only 3 behind other Falcons great Roddy White with 60. Julio Jones’ greatness cannot be stated enough as he is a sure fire Hall of Fame receiver when it’s all said and done.
So why did we trade him?
Personally, I would’ve loved to have him retire a Falcon and play out his remaining days for our team but there were multiple reasons why the Falcons had to let him go.
- Cap Space.
According to Spotrac, Moving Julio freed $15 million in cap space while leaving a dead cap hit of $7.75 million in 2021 and $15.5 million in 2022. While those last 2 numbers are quite substantial, the cap hits would’ve been grossly higher had we kept him. Maybe we could’ve restructured his deal but that never happened so who knows if that were even an option.
I’m no capologist, nor will I pretend to be a financial guru, but I do know that being over the cap significantly and not being able to sign your rookie class is an issue and cuts had to be made. Therefore, while looking at the current contracts, it would appear only about 3 contracts would’ve made a huge difference, Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, or Grady Jarrett.
We could’ve probably moved Matt Ryan but there is no heir apparent at QB and the Falcons probably don’t want to go the route of the Hawks and become bottom of the barrel for a few years and hope for a hit on a future Face of the Franchise QB. Subsequently, we could’ve probably gotten a haul for Grady Jarrett but he’s our best defensive player and moving on from him could’ve been a similar type of hit as Ryan, at least defensively. Which left us with Julio Jones as the aging, oft-injured WR on the downward slope of his career making over 20+ million a year. Any unbiased outsider looking at our books would understand the writing on the wall here.
Julio’s greatness is unquestionable when he’s on the field. He’s going to the Hall of Fame. However, the key is when he is ON THE FIELD. Julio missed 29 games over his career and with that he’s missed a significant amount of plays and offensive snaps. Julio isn’t playing too many consecutive series anymore. Ever since his foot injury he basically comes off the field every time he runs downfield and it appears that he comes out of the game after 1 or 2 routes. Accompanied now with a hamstring issue that bothered him last year and there are significant concerns about him moving forward.
If you’re going to pay roughly 20 million a year or commit the 2nd highest cap-hit to someone, it only makes business sense to either cut the cap hit down to a reasonable number or move on entirely.
Injuries are concerning and Falcons fans see his foot constantly being worked on every game multiple times but there are still many of us fans who still wanted to keep him around because of his impact in the game. Unfortunately, the cap issue mixed with the injury history helped push the decision for front office.
3. Thomas Dimitroff
It’s only fitting that Dimitroff’s decision-making brought Julio to the Falcons and ultimately it’s why Julio is no longer with the team. I’ve been an outspoken critic of TD since about 2013. I never really liked his decision making on certain contracts, paying Matt Ryan like a Super Bowl champion after 2012 which helped set the stage for the current outrageous QB pricing market, as well as how he handled the cap.
At first, I didn’t think too much about the cap with TD because he kept finding ways to clear cap space but then I realized the trick came down to Signing Bonuses and how you can defer payments into later years which leads then to 1 of 3 options.
- You pay the player accordingly, they play out the contract and then the cap hit and contract expire.
- You renegotiate a new deal with a few years remaining in the deal and work out an extension so the cap hits are less.
- You get to a point where the contract is too much and you need to find a way out of it, either cut or trade
Deferring payments/cap hits is a nice trick when trying to “Win Now” but just like a Credit Card, the bill always comes due. That’s what happened when Terry Fontenot inherited the dreaded cap situation Thomas Dimitroff left behind. Matt Ryan’s contract needed to be extended to alleviate cap relief which ultimately led to keeping Ryan here longer and having to move on from Julio.
The decision became even clearer with the Falcons sitting at 4 and obviously 3 QBs were being taken ahead of us. Maybe we were always going Kyle Pitts and this route with Julio but I can’t help but think if we were choosing between 1 of the top 2 QBs in the draft if we might have been more willing to move Ryan to a team like San Francisco (who moved up to draft a QB) which would’ve changed the dynamic of the current and future seasons dramatically. However, things did not play out that way and with Pitts, we get another dynamic playmaker on offense for less money and hopefully get a few more good years out of Ryan.
Hall of fame wide receivers don’t come around often but you don’t always need hall of fame WRs to run an efficient offense. If you are going to move on from any position, wide receiver would seem to have the most likely chance to hit again in this era of the NFL. 100 wide receivers have been drafted over the past 3 years, 13 in the first round. Losing Julio hurts initially but we should be able to grab another cheaper option if Pitts fails to live up to the hype.
At the end of the day, Julio Jones makes any team better. It’s always a sad day to see a fan favorite and franchise great leave and wear a different jersey but it’s something that makes more sense on the spreadsheet than in the fans hearts. It would’ve been nice to ride it out this year with Julio, Ridley, and Pitts but with new management and a new coach comes a new direction. Hopefully, they lead us down the right path. However Julio, will always be remembered and honored in Falcons legacy for the rest and time, and for that…
Thank You Julio and Good Luck in Tennessee.