A look back at Julio Jones’ time with the Falcons

Credit: AJC

Here’s a quick by-the-numbers look at Falcons star receiver Julio Jones entering the 2021 season.

The Falcons are trying to tend to the offseason business at hand.

But it’s as if there is another large plane circling the fields at Flowery Branch, as in 2007. Instead of decrying dogfighting, this plane has the words “I’m outta here” on a streamer.

As the Julio Jones trade scenario lingers, Falcons coach Arthur Smith said that he’s not frustrated about answering questions about the star receiver.

“No,” Smith said. “It’s a part of the job.”

Jones, a seven-time Pro Bowler, requested a trade in March, a person with knowledge of the situation, confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Falcons have been answering calls about Jones for the past two months. But the compensation packages have been lacking in light of the team getting a second-round draft pick for Mohamed Sanu in 2019. Also, the Falcons gave up a second-round pick to acquire tight end Hayden Hurst.

So, what is Jones’ worth?

Those around the Falcons are coming to grips with the facts that Jones will be traded.

“That really hasn’t been talked about amongst the players a whole lot,” Hurst said Thursday. “I think that’s a front-office discussion. We are going to go out there with the 11 guys that we have, and we’re going to play full speed and put some pressure on defenses. That’s the mindset that we have going into this season.”

Linebacker Deion Jones said, “Haven’t even talked about it. You know he’s out working, and we are here doing the same thing.”

Jones has been a mainstay with the Falcons since the team traded six picks to Cleveland to move up to the sixth overall slot in the 2011 NFL draft to select him after a stellar career at Alabama.

In the summer of 2011, quarterback Matt Ryan set up workouts at Buford High during the lockout. Also, Jones would meet at Ryan’s house to go over formations and learn the offense. Fitting Jones into the offense would be key to the team’s future success.

Former Alabama and Falcons quarterback John Parker Wilson would be on hand at the high school field to translate things for Jones.

The Falcons were coming off getting vanquished from the playoffs, as the No. 1 seed, by the eventual Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers after the 2010 season.

The Packers took a 21-14 lead, and the Falcons were driving to tie the score, but cornerback Tramon Williams stepped in front of a Ryan pass and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown to make the score 28-14 at halftime. When the Packers put their high-octane offense on the field in the second half, the Falcons couldn’t keep up.

Adding Jones the next season would fix the offense. With Ryan, wide receivers Roddy White and Harry Douglas, tight end Tony Gonzalez, running back Michael Turner and Jones, the Falcons figured to be unstoppable.

Those workouts at the high school were the beginning of one of the NFL’s most productive relationships over the past 10 seasons.

Without the benefit of a formal offseason program and working with then-wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie, Jones caught 54 passes for 959 yards and eight touchdowns over 13 games as a rookie. In Jones’ second season, the offense took off.

He caught 79 passes for 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns. White caught 92 passes for 1,351 yards and seven touchdowns, and Gonzalez caught 93 passes for 930 yards and eight touchdowns. Turner rushed for 800 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final season in the league.

The Falcons went 13-3, won the NFC South and hosted the NFC Championship game after defeating Seattle in the divisional round of the playoffs.

In the NFC title game Jan. 20, 2013, the Falcons blew a 17-0 lead to Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers and lost 28-24 when a potential game-winning drive stalled on the 10-yard line. On fourth-and-4 from the 10, White was bumped around by NaVorro Bowman, but pass interference was not called.

Jones caught 11 of 13 targets for 182 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC title game.

The Falcons’ fortunes turned in 2013 and 2014, and that led to coach Mike Smith’s firing.

Jones suffered a foot injury in the fifth game and was out for the rest of the 2013 season. The Falcons finished 4-12 without Jones.

In 2014, with a shaky offensive line, the Falcons went 6-10, and Smith was fired. Jones caught 104 passes for 1,593 yards and six touchdowns. He was named to his fourth Pro Bowl and named to the All-Pro team for the first time.

Former Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was hired to replace Smith, and Jones’ next two seasons under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan were the best two of his career.

In 2015, Jones led the league with 136 catches for 1,871 yards and eight touchdowns. His 116.9 yards per game, 13.8 scrimmage yards per touch and 1,871 yards from scrimmage also led the league.

In 2016, on the way to the Super Bowl, Jones caught 83 passes for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns in 14 regular-season games. His 100.6 yards per game led the league.

Jones and Ryan helped the Falcons land in Super Bowl LI. And on a route that they practiced on the Buford High field, Jones made a spectacular sideline catch that should have won the game, but for some questionable play-calling by Shanahan. The Falcons held a 28-3 lead, but would lose 34-28 in overtime.

In 2017, Quinn’s team shook off the horrific Super Bowl loss and made the playoffs. Jones caught 88 passes for 1,444 yards and three touchdowns, with Steve Sarkisian taking over for Shanahan, who landed the San Francisco head coaching job.

But it was a jump ball that Jones didn’t come down with in the end zone against the Eagles that ended the season. The Eagles would move on to win the Super Bowl.

For the second time in Jones’ career, the Falcons were eliminated by the eventual Super Bowl winners. In the 2011 season, they lost in the playoffs to the Giants, who went on to win Super Bowl XLVI over New England.

In 2018, the Falcons were decimated by injuries on defense and finished 7-9. Jones caught 113 passes for 1,677 yards and eight touchdowns.

In 2019, the Falcons started 1-7. After the bye week, they went 6-2 to finish 7-9. Jones caught 99 passes for 1,394 yards and six touchdowns.

Last season, Jones suffered a Grade 2 thigh hamstring strain in a Week 2 loss to the Cowboys. Jones aggravated the injury twice more before not playing the final four games of the season. He finished with 51 catches for 771 yards and three touchdowns over nine games.

The losing took a toll on Jones, but also his contract was a factor in his request for a trade.

On July 29, 2011, he signed a five-year, $26.3 million rookie deal. On Aug. 31, 2015, he signed a five-year extension that had a cash value of $81.4 million, with $47 million guaranteed.

After the 2017 season, Ryan signed a six-year, $150 million extension. Jones signed an extension July 27, 2018, and was not happy with it and wanted to re-negotiate for the third time, according to NFLPA documents.

Jones has a franchise-leading 848 catches for 12,896 yards. His 60 receiving touchdowns are three behind White. Of Jones’ catches, Ryan threw 835 of them and 59 of the touchdown passes.

But as time has worn on, Jones no longer is happy with the Falcons. He requested a trade in March, and the Falcons appear set to fulfill his wishes. Jones went on FS1′s “Undisputed” show May 24 and said “I’m outta here” when discussing the Falcons. He also said he wanted to play for a winner.

His move was not well-received in the upper reaches of the franchise because three times the Falcons accommodated Jones.

Now, all that is left is for the Falcons to pull the trigger on the trade.

Those innocent football days at the Buford High field seem so long ago.

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