With Julio Jones on board, it’s Super Bowl or bust for the Falcons.
The franchise can’t wait to atone for the 28-3 collapse in Super Bowl LI and last season’s short-coming. Now, with Jones back on board, they are legitimate title contenders for Super Bowl LIII, which will be played on Feb. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The team’s star wide receiver, happy with a $3 million adjustment to his contract, reported for training camp on Thursday.
“You feel a hell of a lot better at night when you get ready to go to sleep,” Quinn said about having Jones back. “He’s such a competitor. He’s got such rare stuff about him. As coaches, you really admire the guys that really put out and have their stuff together.
“Sometimes, there is the rare guy that has all of the talent and the work ethic that goes with it.”
Quinn said having Jones back “definitely” gives the Falcons a better chance to win the Super Bowl.
Jones, who skipped the voluntary offseason program and the mandatory minicamp, was not available during the open media session Thursday and is scheduled to discuss his return to the team on Friday.
The Falcons contended that the negotiations with Jones, who had three years remaining on his contract, were not contentious.
“You can have win-win solutions,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “They don’t have to be contentious. In the end, this worked out.”
The Falcons were careful to call the deal an “adjustment,” when in actuality it was restructure. The Falcons appear worried about setting a precedent of re-doing a contract that had three years remaining on it.
“You take situations (on a) case-by-case,” Dimitroff said. “That’s the best way to look at it.”
The determining factor was getting Jones’ deal done in time for him to report for training camp.
“There is no question that was something that we were focused on,” Dimitroff said.
Jones, a five-time Pro Bowl selection 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 restructured Jones’ contract so as not to change their salary cap number for 2018. They plan to look at a full contract extension after the season.
“We were very creative with how we put this together,” Dimitroff said. “This adjustment is cap neutral ... and it still allows us to focus on the other players that we are focused on signing in the relatively near future. We are in a really good spot right now.”
The Falcons have started negotiations for extensions for defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, free safety Ricardo Allen and left tackle Jake Matthews.
“That’s where our focus is right now,” Dimitroff said. “We’ve had ongoing conversations with their representation and we feel good and confident with that as well.”
Dimitroff denied that Falcons owner Arthur Blank got involved in negotiations.
“Absolutely not,” Dimitroff said. “Julio discussions have been ongoing. I’ve had ongoing discussions with Arthur about it as we would on any issues or anything that we talk about from an organization standpoint.
“He never forces us, has never forced us, since I’ve been here, on contract negotiations.”
There was a buzz as the players reported to dormitories behind the practice field.
Guard Brandon Fucso was elated to report.
“Atlanta, year-in and year-out is competing for the Super Bowl,” said Fusco, who started 16 games for San Francisco last season and signed in free agency. “It’s a heck of a team and I’m just excited to be a part of that. I come here to compete to play the spot that I like, right guard.”
Left guard Andy Levitre tried to downplay to significance of Jones’ reporting for camp.
“Naw, that’s not anything that we deal with,” Levitre said. “Really nothing that we can control so we don’t go there.”
Levitre said he didn’t follow the Jones saga as it unfolded over the offseason.
“I don’t know what’s going on with it,” Levitre said. “He’s coming? I was expecting everybody to be here.”
Cornerback Brian Poole was pumped about Jones return.
“Oh man, that’s exciting,” Poole said. “That’s definitely exciting. Yeah, that’s exciting.”
Poole also said he didn’t follow the Jones saga.
“I was kind of focusing on myself and getting myself in the best shape that I can,” Poole said. “When it comes to that kind of stuff everybody kinds of worry about themselves.”
Poole looks forward to practicing against Jones.
“I feel like he’s one of the best in the league and going against him every day, you’ve got no choice but to bring your A-game,” Poole said.
The Falcons could fine Jones nearly $85,000 for missing the mandatory minicamp in June, but appear set to waive the fine in a gesture of good will.
“That was not a discussion point,” Dimitroff said.
Jones signed a five-year, $71.2 million contract extension on Aug. 31, 2015. The deal included $47 million in guaranteed money, with base salaries of $10.5 million (2018), $12.5 million (2019) and $11.4 million (2020). He was set to be the ninth-highest-paid wide receiver in the league based on yearly average.
By moving $2 million from 2019 and making $1 million of the 2018 base a signing bonus, the Falcons were able to keep Jones’ salary cap number in place, thus the “cap-neutral” point by Dimitroff.
Jones was not happy after the market shifted over the offseason with deals signed by Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans (five years, $82.5 million), Cleveland’s Jarvis Landry (five years, $75 million) and Kansas City’s Sammy Watkins (three years, $48 million). Rams gave Brandin Cooks (five years, $80 million) recently.
The restructuring of Jones’ contract with the promise to look at a future extension after the season closed the deal.
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