Jones signed a five-year extension in 2015. He became the second-highest-paid receiver behind Calvin Johnson, who retired at season’s end. The market has changed, as markets will. What seemed a windfall isn’t nearly so, er, windy. That’s the way of long-term deals. In gaining security, you sacrifice earning potential.
Which isn’t to say that, in re-upping for $71.25 million over five years, Jones and his representation erred. Jones will be 32 when this contract lapses. Who’s the best aging wideout you’ve seen lately? Probably Larry Fitzgerald, who just made the Pro Bowl at 34, but he’s more a possession receiver now. Andre Johnson and Steve Smith made the Pro Bowl at 32 but never again. Roddy White’s last Pro Bowl was at 30. As mentioned, Calvin Johnson retired at 30. Dez Bryant got cut – at 29.
Ryan, who’s 32, signed for $150 million over five years, but he plays a different position. He doesn’t have to run fast and jump high. Jones is among the greatest receivers ever, but he’s still a receiver. There’s no way the Falcons in good conscience could tack another four years on his contract at $17 million per annum, which is what the Steelers’ Antonio Brown is making, because you’d be paying top dollar for a player who’ll be — almost certainly — on the down slope of a distinguished career.
And let’s say the Falcons were inclined to give Jones such an extension. With Ryan’s megamillions already on the books, what would that mean for salary-cap purposes? All those young defenders drafted under Dan Quinn will reach extension age very soon. Do you raze a lovingly cultivated defense to buy more of Jones in his middle 30s?
Let’s be clear: The Falcons love Julio Jones. They loved him enough to trade five picks for the rights to draft him. They love him enough to let him practice less than any other player in the NFL. If he and Sexton do ask, “What can you do for us, money-wise?” The guess is that they’d try to figure a way to bump him into Brown’s tax bracket. But they’re not apt to rip up this contract and start again.
A little more money might or might not placate Jones, assuming he needs placating, but he doesn't have all that much bargaining power. He's under contract for three more years. He'll turn 30 next February. There's no way the Falcons could get anything approaching his current value in trade. (NFL teams don't make deals like that, not since the Cowboys dumped Herschel Walker on the Vikings and built a dynasty.) He could hold out a while, but he gets nothing if he doesn't play, and he seems to enjoy playing.
We say again: There could be nothing to any of this. For all we know, Jones could be sitting back laughing over the ongoing speculation. (“They think that? Really?”) Even if he isn’t exactly giddy about his contract, there’s only so much that can be done. And even the worst-case-scenario — that Jones holds out of training camp — wouldn’t be awful. He doesn’t do much before September, anyway.
So long as he’s in Philadelphia in uniform on Sept. 6, everything will copacetic. And he will be.