We’ve done this before and apparently we’re doing it again.
Heading into 2021, the 49ers’ roster has few true holes, but definitely some areas with less depth than is desirable. At the top of that list might be the wide receiver position, that despite having two young studs leading the way (Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk) has mostly question marks everywhere else.
It has reignited a conversation that has been present ever since Kyle Shanahan took over in 2017: Will the 49ers target Julio Jones, who played under Shanahan during his tenure in Atlanta.
Perhaps the possibility makes a little more sense this year than in previous years. Yes Jones, 32, is no longer the top five receiver he once was (he’s no longer even the best receiver on his team), but that also makes acquiring him via trade theoretically easier, especially when you consider the Falcons don’t seem all that close to really contending this season (4-12 last year).
So, is now the time? 49ers beat writer Matt Maiocco was asked that question by Greg Papa when he joined KNBR on Monday. Maiocco won’t rule it out, but he thinks that the 49ers need to decide if what Jones can contribute at this age is worth both the price of his contract and potential trade capital.
“I certainly wouldn’t rule it out, but is the cost of doing business, when you’ve already given up so much draft capital over the next two drafts to get Trey Lance, does it pay off for you?” Maiocco rhetorically asked. “Does it make sense? How much good football does he have left? How much can he help Trey Lance down the road? So those are all questions that the 49ers have undoubtedly answered. And I would say to you I certainly wouldn’t rule it out, but I think it’s probably a lot more complex and a lot more moving parts and a lot more to consider than just saying ‘Yeah, they should get it done, go get it done.'”
“He’s on the wrong side of 30. He’s due quite a bit of money over the next few years of his contract. It just has to make sense. I’m sure that’s something obviously the 49ers have talked about internally. We know what Kyle Shanahan thinks of Julio Jones. Julio Jones, he’s no longer in his prime, but I still think he can be a really good receiver.”
Jones has a $23 million cap hit next season, which would be the second highest on the 49ers in 2021 behind Jimmy Garoppolo’s $26.3 million hit. The 49ers only have a little over $17 million in cap space remaining, meaning that they’d likely have to restructure some deals or move a player or two in a trade to stay under the cap.
“And the other part is, how much can he help the team? I think the 49ers fully expect Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk to take the next step, but now it’s a matter of figuring out who that No. 3 receiver is and that would kind of take care of that, not that Julio Jones would step in and be the No. 3 receiver, he’d probably be the No. 1 or 2 guy. Or at least you’d see three guys with probably pretty similar numbers at the end of the season.”
Jones played in just nine games last year thanks to a lingering hamstring injury, but was still productive in those games, gaining a total of 771 receiving yards, good for 85.7 per contest, the seventh highest number among NFL receivers in 2020.
Jones had arguably the two best seasons of his career with Shanahan as his offensive coordinator in 2015-2016, named a first-team All-Pro receiver in both, while posting an NFL best 136 catches for 1871 yards in 2015.
Behind Samuel and Aiyuk, the 49ers mostly have question marks with Richie James Jr., Mohamed Sanu, Jalen Hurd, Trent Sherfield, River Cracraft, Jauan Jennings and others currently rounding out the depth chart.
Listen to the full interview below.