The answer is: No Julio.
Falcons four-time All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones will not attend the team’s mandatory mini-camp this week. Jones’ attendance has been the subject of much speculation since he declined to attend voluntary Organized Team Activities over the past two months.
The Falcons announced Jones’ decision Monday evening on the eve of the three-day mini-camp.
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“We have been in contact with Julio and his representation,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement released. “We will not discuss those conversations publicly except to say we feel they have been productive and constructive. We understand the concerns and thoughts from their perspective. Although not ideal, Julio informed us today he would not be attending mini-camp.
“We have much respect for him and what he means to our team, our city and our fans.”
The issues appears to concern Jones’ contract, a situation he has not discussed publicly.
“I’m not going to comment publicly about the situation,” said Jimmy Sexton, who represents Jones, when reached by phone. “I’m going to let them say whatever they want to say.”
The Falcons were expecting Jones to take part in the entire offseason program, but after the market for wide receivers skyrocketed over the offseason, Jones apparently chose to work on his own.
Per the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, Jones is subject to fines for missing the mandatory mini-camp. According to the 2011 agreement, he can be fined $14,070 for the first day, $28,150 for the second day and $42,215 for the third day, for a total of $84,435. Once new deals are done, the fines are often waived as a show of good will.
Jones won’t be the only player in the league to skip mandatory mini-camp. Seattle All-Pro safety Earl Thomas and Oakland All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack also are skipping their respective camps.
Jones is not happy with his contract as the market shifted over the offseason with deals signed by Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, Cleveland’s Jarvis Landry and Kansas City’s Sammy Watkins.
Jones signed a five-year, $71.2 million contract extension 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’s set to be the seventh-highest paid wide receiver in the league, but has three years remaining on the deal.
The Falcons have not made it a practice of tearing up contracts with three years left. They re-configured Roddy White’s contract in 2009 with one year left after a brief holdout.
Landry landed a five-year, $75-million deal with Cleveland, Evans signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal with Tampa Bay and Watkins signed a three-year, $48 million deal with Kansas City.
Also, the wide receiver market figures to continue to surge, with deals for New York Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr., Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green on the horizon.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, early in the OTAs, said he has been in contact with Jones.
“He’s in great shape,” Quinn said recently. “He’s spending some time this offseason working on some of the things that he’s not even been able to over the last offseasons because of some injuries. But, I’ll keep the conversations that he and I had private.”
Jones did a short interview with TMZ in Hollywood and said he wants to be a “Falcon for life.” He had a body guard tell a reporter he wasn’t talking at a charity event at Berkmar High. He politely did not discuss his situation with a reporter from the Charlotte Observer at Cam Newton’s charity kickball tournament.
Jones, who’s been accommodating with the media over his career, has gone silent since the end of last season.
Jones’ concerns have reached the higher levels of the organization with owner Arthur Blank and Dimitroff getting involved.
Quinn expected to have Jones participate in all of the offseason programs when he spoke to the media at the owner’s meeting in April in Orlando. Something happened. Jones did not attend the team’s recently completed OTAs.
In May, Quinn said the Falcons were not expecting Jones until the mini-camp and noted that he’d been in touch with Jones. Quinn did not offer a definitive answer on whether Jones will attend after an OTA session last week.
The Falcons need Jones on board.
The team is working on new wrinkles to the offense, which back-slid from first to 15th in the NFL in scoring last season. Jones, who didn’t work at all over the 2017 offseason after foot surgery, was spectacular at times as he amassed 1,444 yards.
But Jones has things to work on, too.
He only caught two touchdowns passes from Ryan as their deep passing seemed off. He led the team with seven dropped passes, including a potential game-changing touchdown at Carolina. He was also not effective in the red zone.
Jones caught only 6 of 22 passes (27 percent) thrown to him inside the 20-yard line for one touchdown. By comparison, Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown caught 13 of 23 (56.5 percent) of his passes in the red zone for six touchdowns.
Jones had a 59.5 percent catch ratio (148 targets, 88 catches), which was his second-lowest since his rookie season, when he had a 56.8 percent catch ratio.
Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will welcome Jones’ return.
“There are a lot of layers to that,” Sarkisian said.
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