Julio Jones will be a Falcon for life – or at least for the foreseeable future.
The long-awaited contract extension was announced by the team Saturday as a three-year deal. According to several people familiar with the situation, the contract is for $66 million, with $64 million guaranteed.
The new deal comes none too soon as the Falcons open the regular season at the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. The team announced the deal, reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and several media outlets earlier in the day, just as the team departed for Minneapolis.
“There are a handful of elite receivers and Julio is certainly part of that group, not only because of his production on the field but his leadership off the field and in the locker room,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement released by the Falcons. “Julio has been a cornerstone of our organization for several years and we have always intended for that to continue for years to come.”
The last-hour deal, long promised by the organization, didn’t come without question. As late as his weekly news conference Thursday, Jones himself was not certain a deal would come nor whether he would play Sunday without the extension.
“I don’t know,” Jones said. “What I’m trying to do is be ready. You know what I mean. It’s not if I’m going to play or if I’m not going to play. I’m trying to be out there regardless. I’m coming back from injuries and things like that, but the ultimate thing is being ready when my number is called.”
Jones was working at less than half speed during the opening portion of the practice Thursday. He was not listed on the injury reports.
“Today, I was a little sore from being inside on the turf and things like that,” Jones said. “As of right now, everything is good.”
The team has been working on an extension for the 30-year-old Jones, a six-time Pro Bowl player who’s on the verge of breaking the franchise’s record for career receiving yards.
Jones is a nine-year veteran after the Falcons traded up to select him with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. In his career, he has 698 receptions for 10,731 yards and 51 touchdowns in 111 games.
The wide receiver market shifted when the Saints signed Michael Thomas to a five-year, $96.25 million deal that has the potential to surpass the $100 million mark. The 26-year-old Thomas, a second-round pick out of Ohio State in 2016 has three 1,000 yard seasons to start his career and was an All-Pro last season.
The Falcons wanted to have a deal in place before the opener.
“It’s our goal and their goal as well to get it done before the start of the season,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Aug. 26.
Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown was traded from the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Oakland Raiders over the offseason. He was waived Saturday. The Falcons, like much of the NFL, were closely monitoring the situation as Brown’s renegotiated contract called for $54.1 million, with $30.1 million guaranteed, to temporarily set a new bar at the position. The Kansas City Chiefs signed wide receiver Tyreek Hill to a three-year, $54 million extension Friday.
Jones did not participate in offseason activities in 2018 and settled on a contract adjustment before the start of training camp. The Falcons agreed to improving Jones’ contract after it was adjusted July 27, 2018.
CBS Sports NFL business analyst Joel Corry, over the offseason, projected that Jones’ deal would take on $60 million of new money over three years.
“You take his base salary down to the league minimum and give him a $20 million signing bonus,” Corry said. The average yearly value of the contract ended up being $22 million a season.
The Falcons reportedly restructured Jake Matthews and Ricardo Allen deals to make room for Jones’ deal earlier this week.
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