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I get why Julio Jones is holding out, and the Falcons should make him happy

The Falcons told Julio Jones a contract renegotiation isn’t in their budget this year, which isn’t the same as saying they can’t renegotiate his contract. Jones apparently recognizes the difference because he reportedly won’t be in Flowery Branch when the Falcons report for training camp on Thursday. 

Jones has three years remaining on his contract but he’s right to hold out if he feels he isn’t being compensated fairly, which he’s not. Jones’ average annual salary of $14.2 million now ranks ninth-highest among wide receivers when he’s no worse than the third-best at his position. I don’t blame him for using the only leverage he has to try to get something closer to his market value. 

Jones is going to take a big hit to his public image by holding out. Selfish and fickle fans demand selflessness and loyalty from players. They want Jones to “honor the contract” and sycophantic media looking to gain favor with the NFL and its teams will echo the sentiment. 

These same people don’t demand that teams “honor the contract” when they routinely cut players and the agreed-upon money disappears. They don’t ask why teams signed players to those deals if they didn’t like them. Pro athletes have power because they are both specialized labor and marketable products, and the resentment that causes for certain people means they will almost always take the side of ownership in contract disputes. 

In most cases, the interests of teams and their customers are aligned. In the case of the Falcons and their supporters, they want Jones to report to camp and help the team win games. His money is not their concern. 

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Still, the Falcons could pay Jones more now. They’d just rather not do it because then they’d have to make sacrifices with other areas of the roster. Giving Jones an extension also would buck the Falcon’s internal policy of not doing so when players have multiple years left on their contract. 

To all of that I say, so what? The Falcons are trying to win a Super Bowl now and they can’t do it without Jones. Give Jones a reasonable pay raise, get him on the field and let coach Dan Quinn keep his Brotherhood intact. 

If a new deal for Jones means one of Grady Jarrett, Jake Matthews or Ricardo Allen doesn’t get a contract extension now then so be it. If, say, Brooks Reed must go so that Jones can get a raise then that’s a swap the Falcons must make. And if any other Falcons player also wants an early contract extension he would have to make the case that he’s better than Jones is now, which isn’t possible. 

The Falcons have most of the leverage because Jones would be giving up his salary and accumulate fines if he sits out the entire season. But it’s not as if there are no risks here for the Falcons, among them disruption to Quinn’s beloved Brotherhood. (Falcons owner Arthur Blank told The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter that he’s not getting involved in negotiations at this time.)

The Falcons are taking a chance that Jones really isn’t willing to hold out for a long time. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that Jones “appears resolute in his mindset” about sitting out until he gets a new deal. 

The Falcons told Jones that they would renegotiate his contract next year but what if Jones has a down season in 2018 or suffers a major injury (a real concern given his history)? The Falcons could decide that not only will Jones not get an extension, but that he’s also not worth his $12.5 million base salary in 2019. Jones knows contract security can be a mirage for NFL players.

There’s speculation that Jones wants his deal revised because he’s received all of the $47 million due in guaranteed money. Jones is certain to make his $10.5 million base salary for 2018 if he reports to the team. But, again, a lot can happen between now and when he’s owed $12.5 million in 2019, and the $11.4 million Jones is due in 2020 is even less certain because he’ll be 31 years old and the Falcons could cut him with no cap hit. 

We don’t know if guaranteed money is the concern for Jones because he hasn’t commented publicly on what he wants out of a new deal. But if that’s the sticking point, the solution seems relatively simple. The Falcons could move some of his base salary for 2019 and 2020 to now, like the Steelers did with wide receiver Antonio Brown’s deal in 2015. 

It’s more complicated if Jones wants a new deal with big raises. If the Falcons accommodate him they’d risk having dead money on their salary cap after Jones is gone. They may not be able to sign all their promising young defenders to contract extensions. 

I get why the Falcons don’t want to take those risks. I also get why none of that concerns Jones. He wants his deal adjusted to match the reality of the new market for wide receivers and, by holding out, is using his only leverage. Jones can’t just cut the Falcons, tear up his contract and sign a deal with another team.

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