Julio Jones won’t play in any of the five Falcons exhibition games. What’s the point? Keep him fresh and healthy for the season. Jones can get ready without a few snaps in games that don’t count.
Jones’ contract is the more important matter. He didn’t much want to talk about it Tuesday. Then the AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter suggested Jones is “in the same boat” as Michael Thomas and Amari Cooper. All are star wide receivers in line for contract extensions with big pay raises.
That prompted Jones to talk a little about his contract.
“No, we are not in the same boat,” Jones said. “They got their own thing going on. I’ve got my thing going on. I am not waiting on Michael Thomas; I am not waiting on Amari Cooper.
“It’s just going back and forth right now negotiating (with the Falcons), but that’s it. There’s nothing at this point for me to tell. My thing is coming out here working with the young guys and just being ready when the season starts.”
With that, Jones scuttled much of the conjecture surrounding his contract dance with the Falcons.
There were reports that speculated the sides already had an agreement in place before training camp, but because of NFL rules, couldn’t make it official until last weekend. That was a year after the Falcons last adjusted Jones’ contract. But apparently there was no wink-and-nod deal.
Also, the way Jones tells it, he’s not waiting for Thomas and Cooper to sign deals and set the market. Thomas is holding out from Saints camp while Cooper is practicing with the Cowboys. Jones reported to Falcons camp on time and cited franchise owner Arthur Blank’s assurances while expressing confidence that he’d get a contract extension to his liking.
I still think the Falcons will reach a deal with Jones. They’ve publicly committed to doing it for more than a year. Jones said Blank’s “word is gold.” He showed up for camp without a new contract and is doing everything the Falcons want him to do. The Falcons, like all NFL teams, always have the option to play hardball, but doing so at this point would make them look like bad-faith negotiators while (again) alienating their second-most important player.
Jones, 30, deserves a big pay raise. He’s got at least two more years left as an elite player so he’s worth much more than the $21 million due to him through 2020. Quarterback Matt Ryan has shown no signs of decline, so the Falcons probably will want a deal for Jones that makes it feasible to keep him around longer than that.
I’m guessing Jones will end up getting an extension richer than Antonio Brown’s contract with the Raiders. Brown, 31, received three years for $50.1 million, with $30.1 million up front. Jones is better than Brown, with 21 fewer games of wear and tear over his career.
Thomas might get the most money of them all. The gap between him and Jones is small after Thomas delivered an All-Pro season in 2019. That explains Thomas’ reluctance to play for his $1.15 million salary in 2019, the final year of his rookie contract. Thomas is 26 years old, so the Saints can reasonably expect him to be an elite player at an important position for the length of his contract extension.
Cooper (25) is younger than Thomas and Jones. But he’s not nearly as good as those players and is set to make $13.9 million this season if he doesn’t get an extension. Maybe that’s why Cooper said it’s “not a big deal” if he doesn’t get an extension before the start of the season.
Jones’ approach to his contract lands somewhere between Thomas and Cooper. Jones didn’t hold out, which is significant. He stayed away from last summer’s mandatory minicamp and was prepared not to report for training camp before the Falcons converted some future money to upfront cash.
But, unlike Cooper, Jones isn’t shrugging off his contract. Jones wants the deal he’s been promised. In the meantime, he will prepare for the season without a full slate of summer practices or any exhibition games.
“I’m a veteran,” Jones said. “I don’t need preseason (games) to get ready. It’s a mentality thing. ... I practice the way I play. Once I get my reps in, I will be ready to go.
“And my timing with Matt, it’s not (that) I need to be out there every day with Matt to get my timing down. He knows where I’m going to be (and) I know where he’s going to put the ball at.”
By now, no one should doubt the truth of that. Jones is getting ready for another big season. Now it’s up to the Falcons to pay up.
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