Falcons bracing for first holdout in nearly a decade

Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn observe player drills during the final day of mandatory minicamp Thursday, June 14, 2018, in Flowery Branch.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Team appears set to wait for Jones

The lines are drawn and the Falcons are about to have their first high-profile holdout in nearly a decade.

However, Falcons owner Arthur Blank remains undeterred as star wide receiver Julio Jones plans to sit out training camp, which is set to start on Thursday. The All-Pro hopes to get his contract, which has three years remaining, restructured.

Blank still believes that Jones will be a “Falcon for life.” The owner doesn’t plan to get involved in the negotiations at this time.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn are co-leaders of the football operation, with Quinn having final say over the 53-man roster. Nick Polk is the Falcons’ director of football operations and main salary cap manager. Chase Falivene is the team’s salary cap and player personnel assistant.

Dimitroff, Polk and Falivene played key roles in getting quarterback Matt Ryan's five-year $150 million contract done in May. 

“That’s their job and it’s my job to support them,” Blank said when reached on his cell phone in New York on Tuesday. “If they need help, they’ll ask for it. I’m always available to them and they know it.”

The Falcons are the 29th most valuable sports franchise in the world, according to Forbes, with a worth $2.4 billion.  Blank purchased the team for $541 million in 2002 after stepping down as co-chairman of Home Depot.

Since taking over, the Falcons have turned into a powerhouse in the NFC and reached Super Bowl LI after two previous trips to the conference championship game during Blank’s tenure.

Blank believes the situation will get worked out. Jones has not spoken on the matter and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, has not returned several phone calls.

“He’s going to be a Falcon for life,” Blank said. “I’m convinced of that and so is he. We’ll take it from there. But we are all focused on the same thing. I think that we are in good shape.”

The Falcons are embracing their option to stand firm and coax Jones back into the fold with a promise to look into re-structuring his contract in 2019.

“It’s hard to try to get a deal re-done with three years left,” said Joel Corry, a former agent who writes sports business for CBSSports.com. “I’ve been in that situation. It was done with (wide receiver) Jimmy Smith in 2002. The circumstances were a little different.”

Former Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver had promised to re-structure Smith’s contract if he had a big season. In order to get the new deal, Smith held out until early September.

The Falcons open the NFL season against Philadelphia on Sept. 6, three days after Labor Day.

Seattle safety Kam Chancellor held out in 2015 with three years left on his contract. He missed the first two games of the season before returning.

“He got nothing when he held out into the regular season in 2015,” said Corry, an Emory graduate. “So, the Falcons have said they don’t want to establish the precedent and they will re-visit it next year. I expect them, at least for now, to stick to their guns.”

Jones, a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, caught 88 passes for 1,444 yards and three touchdowns last season. He’s the team’s top offensive weapon.

The Falcons, with Jones on board, are Super Bowl contenders. Without Jones, they would likely be an 8-8 team.

“That’s where his power is,” Corry said. “They don’t have anyone who could remotely replace him in the passing game. They have Super Bowl aspirations, but at the same time they don’t want to do anything. Teams hate establishing new precedent.”

The Falcons could damage their future financial structure if they restructure Jones’s contract.

“This is how teams think, ‘If we do something for this guy, it’s going to open the door for everybody else coming in down the road wanting the same thing done,’” Corry said. “What is going to stop Alex Mack next year when he has two years left or Ryan Schraeder when he has three years left.”

Roddy White was heading into the final year of his contract when he held out for six days in 2009.

“We’ll see how determined (Jones) is,” Corry said. “Typically, a team will treat a hold out like he’s an injured player and just work around him, see what they can do without the player that is holding out. So, he’s got to decide, if it’s like a typical holdout, where there is not a lot of communication and the team trying to wait it out, at what point will he show up? If it looks like he’s not going to get anything or will he stick to his guns.”

Jones is not likely to sit out the entire season.

“Anytime a guy says that he’s going to threaten to sit out the whole season, I take that in one ear and out the other because they won’t do that,” Corry said. “Because then their contract is going to toll (stalls) and you’re going to be in the same place where you are right now for next year in terms of years left on your contract.”

If things get really nasty, Jones could be expected to return around the NFL trading deadline, which is Oct. 30. The Falcons will have played seven games by the trading deadline.

“Sometimes players decide ‘I don’t want money anymore. I want out of town,’” Corry said. “I’ve been through that situation as well. In 2003, with (Tampa Bay wide receiver) Keenan McCardell. He had two years left and it was apparent that Tampa wasn’t going to pay him. Our strategy shifted to do everything we can to get out of town. He got traded to the Chargers at the trading deadline.”

Last season, Houston traded offensive lineman Duane Brown to Seattle at the trading deadline after it became apparent they were not going to reach a deal.

The Falcons have put a priority on contract extensions for defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, left tackle Jake Matthews and free safety Ricardo Allen.

“There is more urgency because they have expiring contracts whereas Julio doesn’t,” Corry said. “That’s where the Falcons want to focus their attention.”

2018 AVERAGE PER YEAR FOR WRs

1. Antonio Brown, Steelers: $17 million

2. Mike Evans, Bucs: $16.5 million

3. Brandin Cooks, Rams: $16 million

4. DeAndre Hopkins, Texans: $16.2 million

5. Sammy Watkins, Chiefs: $16 million

6. Jarvis Landry, Browns: $15.1 million

7. A.J. Green, Bengals: $15 million

8. Davante Adams, Packers: $14.5 million

9. Julio Jones, Falcons: $14.2 million 

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