Falcons coach Dan Quinn, after putting the team through its first mandatory minicamp practice, said he wasn’t disappointed that All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones elected to not attend in an offseason contract holdout.
“Sometimes football and business intersect,” Quinn said.
The Falcons were fully expecting Jones to participate in the offseason program. However, after the market for wide receiver shifted upward, Jones, who hasn’t directly addressed his contract situation, apparently felt underpaid.
“Any player as long as the lines of communication between coach and player are open, then I’m pretty clear on things,” Quinn said. “The things that jam me up is when people don’t communicate. That’s true in most relationships. Teammate to coach. Coach to teammate. Husband-wife. Good communications usually make it work.”
Quinn then noted that he was pleased with Jones’ communication about his plans not to attend the minicamp. However, Quinn said he wasn’t aware of Jones’ plan to skip the three-day session until Monday.
Quinn declined to reveal specifics of his conversations with Jones and offered no insight into a timetable on the issue that can only be a distraction as the team prepares for an upcoming season.
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 (based on salary cap hit), 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.
Jarvis Landry landed a five-year, $75-million deal with Cleveland, Mike Evans signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal with Tampa Bay and Sammy Watkins signed a three-year, $48 million deal with Kansas City to set the current market.
Per the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, Jones is subject to fines for missing the mandatory minicamp. 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 has been working out with Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens, who had a reputation for throwing his quarterbacks – Jeff Garcia, Tony Romo and Donovan McNabb – under the bus as a player. He’s so emotional that he turned down an invitation to his own upcoming enshrinement ceremony in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
However, Quinn is fine with Jones working out with such a character. Owens was a player with the 49ers when Quinn first started working in the NFL in 2001.
“I would say (they) are two of the hardest working athletes that I’ve seen,” Quinn said. “One of the remarkable things that I can remember from 18 years ago was watching him and the way that he finished plays. It might have been a 6-yard pass that ended up as a 76-yard pass base on the way that he finished.”
While Owens are Jones are both physically gifted receivers, Quinn is not sure that he can teach Jones anything while working out.
“They are both in a similar body type,” Quinn said. “So, maybe. That would be a good question for him.”
Before Jones left for his offseason away from the team, the Falcons communicated to him areas of improvement through what they call “point of attack” tapes.
“Julio had a real clear vision of the things he wanted to improve on,” Quinn said. “That part is going to be an emphasis for him this offseason.”
Some Falcons players were bothered by questions about Jones’ absence.
“The biggest disruption is the questions that you guys ask,” center Alex Mack said. “Everything else is business as usual.”
Mack then eased up a bit.
“Someone’s contract or what he wants over there is kind of outside of our control,” Mack said. “He’s a great teammate. He’s a great guy. He works hard every day. I’m sure he’s going to ready to go whenever he shows up.”
Linebacker Deion Jones also believes that Jones won’t miss a beat upon his return.
“The type of player that (Julio) is, we know that he’s going to come in prepared and ready to go,” Deion Jones said. “We are just focusing on what we have here. When he gets here, it’s going to be back to work like it never happened.”
Quinn spent the early part of practice working with the wide receivers. He normally spends some extra team with the defensive ends and linebackers.
“We’re just practicing like we are any other day, just coming out here doing our job, whether Julio’s present or not, we just focus on what we have to do today to get better,” wide receiver Mohamed Sanu said.
With Julio Jones out, Sanu has been leading the wide receiver corps.
“I have a leadership role, whether he’s here or not,” Sanu said. “Me and Julio and a bunch of guys – (Justin) Hardy, Marvin Hall – we all lead by example. Whether Julio’s here or not, we do what we do every day.”
Hardy tried to block out Julio Jones’ absence.
“I’m just here to get better,” Hardy said. “I’m not really thinking about it. I know he’s going to be doing whatever he can do to be good when he gets here.”
Hardy and Sanu said they talk to Jones frequently.
“Everybody leads by example, everybody knows what they’re doing,” Hardy said. “We’ve got a lot of great guys in the meeting room, paying attention to what they need to do.”
Some question the value of minicamps. New England canceled the last two days of its minicamp. Green Bay gave 16 veterans off from its minicamp.
“It’s a good opportunity for guys who just came in to get most of the reps and fly around, get some more of their tape of film before camp,” Deion Jones said. “It pretty much get their corrections in to work out before the break. That’s what I took from it when I was at minicamp. It can help you make great strides and get you ready for training camp.”
AJC Staff writer Max Marcovitch contributed to this story.