© Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
It’s not often a receiver like Julio Jones comes on the market, let alone as openly as Jones did. It was mutual and broadcast widely that Jones and the Falcons — who cap-strapped themselves to the point that they had to trade Jones to sign their rookie class — were working on a trade.
Jones, with 12,896 career receiving yards, has the 20th-most in that category all-time, and at age 32, is about to enter his 11th NFL season. He’s a seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time first team All-Pro. But you didn’t need any of those accolades to know how dominant Jones has been over the last decade.
And now, according to multiple reports, Jones is heading to the Tennessee Titans for draft compensation that almost makes sense given his age, contract, and the Falcons’ desperation, but is jarring nonetheless. The Titans got him for a second-round pick this year, and a fourth-round pick in 2023, with the Falcons also sending back the Titans’ original sixth-round pick.
Official compensation update: Falcons will get a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 fourth-round pick for Julio Jones and a sixth-round pick in 2023. Trade now official.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 6, 2021
For Julio Jones, that’s a bargain. His contract is substantial this year, and will cost $15.3 million on the cap, but he’s guaranteed just $2 million in 2022 and nothing in 2023, when he’s scheduled to count for $11.5 million against the cap.
Could the 49ers have gotten involved at that price? Absolutely. But the downside is not negligible, either. NBC Sports’ Matt Maiocco reported the 49ers did have interest, obviously.
— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoNBCS) June 6, 2021
Kyle Shanahan said in 2018, “If there’s a Julio Jones available and you have the opportunity to get him, you go get him. It’s worth it. Whatever the price is, whatever the draft pick is, go get him.”
So why didn’t the 49ers pull the trigger? Here’s a look at the pros and cons.
The pros: Acquiring one of the greatest receivers of all time for reasonable draft compensation in a receiving room that is threadbare and has only two receivers that can be counted upon… and given injuries, they can’t actually be counted upon. Richie James Jr. is the only other receiver who you can comfortably say is likely to make the team at this point. Jones would provide serious depth and a sense of ease against the possibilities of injuries.
The cons: The 49ers would be without their first- and second-round picks next year, and third- and fourth-round picks in 2023. They would have to maneuver cap space in order to both afford Jones’ contract and to sign their rookie class, meaning two of three moves would be likely: extending Laken Tomlinson to lower his current year cap hit, and restructuring Jimmie Ward and/or Arik Armstead’s contracts. There is also the obvious concern that Jones has been injured in each of the last two seasons and perhaps we’ve already seen the best of him.