This was always going to be the way it ended. That it ended the night before the Atlanta Falcons were to report to training camp seems a victory, and not just a symbolic one. Julio Jones mightn’t be completely happy, but he’s happy enough that the withholding of his presence is no longer an issue. He’s back. The Brotherhood has held. Can world domination be far behind?
That last part wasn’t meant to be entirely flippant. The 2018 Falcons should be very good. They have a superb roster. They made the sagacious draft decision to hook Calvin Ridley. They made Matt Ryan the NFL’s highest-paid player. They just extended the contracts of their coach and general manager through 2022. (Note that Ryan’s contract runs a year longer. This is the NFL. Quarterbacks matter above all else.)
Which isn’t to say that Julio Jones doesn’t matter. He absolutely does. He’s a great player. There’s never a way to quantify how much a high-profile holdout will hurt an organization, but it’s safe to say that Jones being elsewhere while Camp No Julio convened would have enhanced nothing. Moot point now. This will be Camp Sigh of Relief.
This odd Summer of Julio could be measured out in cryptic gestures and terse statements. At 11:57 p.m. Wednesday, the Falcons emailed five sentences – included were 65 words, four periods and one comma – from GM Thomas Dimitroff that tabled the whole thing. Those 65 words:
“We have had continued dialogue all offseason with Julio and his representation. We have come to an agreement with Julio, and we will re-address everything in 2019. I appreciate everyone’s hard work and communication on this. This adjustment does not impede us from working on other extensions with other key members of our football team. We will continue to work on those contracts going forward.”
Salient parts: "We have come to an agreement" isn't the same as "We've given him all he wanted." The Falcons haven't ripped up his existing contract. They've just added a bit -- $3 million, according to esteemed colleague D. Orlando Ledbetter -- to what was there.
“This adjustment” – note the wording – “does not impede us from working on other extensions with other key members of our football team.” This is why the Falcons couldn’t give Jones the moon and stars; many young defenders plus left tackle Jake Matthews are about to come off rookie contracts. Had the Falcons rewritten Jones’ deal to make him (again) the NFL’s highest-paid wideout, they’d have been force to scrimp elsewhere, which could have led to the exit of some players they’d rather have kept.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but a new contract for Julio could have had the same erosive effect that the famous draft swoop for Julio had back at the beginning of the decade. In April 2011, Dimitroff traded five picks for the right to move up 21 spots to nab No. 11 from the great state of Alabama. In 2012, the Falcons almost made the Super Bowl. (NaVorro Bowman interceded/interfered.) In 2013, they went 4-12. In 2014, they went 6-10, leading to Mike Smith getting the gate and Dimitroff hanging on, albeit with diminished powers.
Jones had done exactly as the Falcons hoped he would. (He had 11 catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns in that lost NFC championship game.) Trouble was, the five-for-one stripped the Falcons’ depth. They were left without a No. 1 and No. 4 pick in 2012, the draft that began with Peter Konz, ended with Travian Robinson and will stand as the nadir of Dimitroff’s time here.
We say this often, but it’s a point that cannot be overstated: Owing to the hard cap, every NFL personnel choice bears ramifications. If all Quinn and Dimitroff cared about was winning the Super Bowl in their home stadium come February, they’d have given Jones a huge bump for this season and maybe cut a few guys to do it. But DQ and TD are, as noted above, contractually bound for the long haul. They’re not apt to claim their rings and retire to Monte Carlo. The memory of 2013 and 2014 surely serves as an object lesson to the GM who endured those dark days.
Back to Jones: “We will re-address everything in 2019.” That doesn’t guarantee that he’ll get a new deal then, but it’s more likely to happen next year than this. It’s safe to say the Falcons were blindsided by his disgruntlement. They’d gotten all their spreadsheets in plumb, and suddenly their second-biggest name, whose contract has three years to run, wants more money. That sort of forced renegotiation was never going to happen.
Moot point now. Julio’s coming to camp, placated if not wholly satisfied, and the Falcons can get on with what, three months ago, they’d assumed would be the business at hand – figuring out how to score touchdowns in Philadelphia.
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC