Receiver tends to be the diva position in the NFL and Julio Jones never really fit into that stereotype but there is now at least a little smoke to a potential look-at-me fire developing in Atlanta.
Jones, a three-time All-Pro who is arguably the best wideout in football, isn’t happy and missed all of the Falcons’ spring work, including the mandatory minicamp which cost the Alabama product a little less than $85K.
As with most things this time of the year Jones’ angst is connected to his pocket book even though he’s already highly paid with a contract that puts him in the top 10 at his particular position, averaging just under $14.3 million per season.
The issue is the players ahead of Jones on that particular scoreboard, seven of them in total starting with Antonio Brown. Others ahead of Jones in the current NFL pecking order at WR are Mike Evans, DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Jarvis Landry, A.J. Green and Davante Adams.
Of that list only Brown can make a credible argument when it comes to being better on the field than Jones, who is coming off his fourth straight season with at least 1,400 receiving yards. The problem, as with most contracts in the league is timing. When Jones signed his deal in 2015, it was a colossal contract with $35M guaranteed and just about everyone else on the list signed on the dotted line after Jones as the salary cap continued its climb northward.
Now Jones is halfway through his deal and all the guaranteed money has been paid out so the only thing left is base salaries of $10.5M in 2018, $12.5M in 2019 and just under $11.5M is his walk year of 2020, meaning in real money Jones is currently even more underpaid that the average of his deal makes it seem.
From the Falcons’ perspective the concern isn’t so much that Jones would like some kind of tweak to his deal, it’s the way he is going about getting it and whom he may be getting advice from.
“The fact that he’s running around with Terrell Owens has the front office uneasy,” long-time Atlanta Journal-Constitution Falcons writer D. Orlando Ledbetter recently told Charlotte’s ESPN Radio affiliate. “The fact that he’s held out and is kind of bucking the whole Brotherhood thing has them a little bit uneasy, too. So, they’ll have to mend some fences, no question about it, once he returns.”
Owens, of course, is the poster child of the diva-movement at the WR position in the NFL, a man who has feuded with every quarterback he’s ever had and is planning on skipping his Hall of Fame induction, a decision one league source told GetMoreSports.com is directly tied to the fact that Owens can’t get any of his former teams to foot the bill for the weekend he wants.
And that’s the guy Jones was working out with instead of reporting to the Falcons’ mandatory minicamp.
It’s not hard to imagine what the Falcons might be thinking: T.O. whispering in Jones’ ear about his worth and the fact that Matt Ryan is now the highest-paid player in NFL history after agreeing to a five-year, $150M extension with $100M of that guaranteed back in May.
If you ignore the value of the position as good as Ryan is he is not regarded as one of the top two QBs in football like Jones is regarded at his position so maybe Owens has a wedge to use.
Being scared of Owens, however, is alarmist. Jones is not some weak-willed personality who is going to be pushed in a negative direction by anyone with a contrarian view against the league or a particular team. Furthermore, from a physical perspective no one is going to Criticize Owens as a workout partner, a man who is still running 4.4s at the age of 44.
However, when you add in Jones’ scrubbing of social media and voila you have concern.
“I have no idea where all of this is coming from,” Owens told Bleacher Report. “I have nothing to do with Julio except training. This is the media trying [to] create something that’s not even there. It’s very unfortunate. What possible reason would they have to create that narrative?”
There is some good news, however. Ryan, who typically foots the bill for his receivers to get together in South Florida for July workouts, expects his WR1 to be there this time like every other year.
“There’s probably about 12 of us that are going to get together in the month of July, and he’ll certainly be a part of that,” Ryan claimed when talking to reporters at minicamp. “We’ll have an extended period where we get some work together. You know, that’s something that we’ve done in the past.”
Ryan also seems less than concerned about the fact that Jones missed spring work, which is never all that important for proven, veteran players.
“He’s such an incredible player, such a talented player,” Ryan said. “And he’s been working hard. He’s in great shape. I think he’ll pick those new things up really quickly. And he’s got a lot of time on task with 95 percent of our system. So, he knows this system inside and out. He’s always extremely well-prepared. And I’m confident and positive he’ll be ready to go.”
There is a lot of talent on the Atlanta offense starting with Ryan, the former MVP, the dual-threat backfield of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman as well as Mohamed Sanu and rookie Calvin Ridley, like Jones a former Alabama star.
If you don’t have the top skill-position threat in that mix, however, the dominoes start to fall and the others aren’t quite as effective. Sanu for instance is one of the best WR2 in the game but would be miscast as a No. 1 while Ridley would seem to be an upgrade over Taylor Gabriel in the slot, putting too much on the plate of a first-year player is always a concern. Meanwhile, without Jones’ commanding double teams the underneath stuff becomes that much more difficult for Freeman and tight end Austin Hooper.
Jones’ issue is his status in the game and the belief he should continue to be paid like one of the best his position and he’s not wrong.
For that reason expect something between the Falcons and Jones to get done this summer.
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