We’ve officially entered the slow season for NFL news. The draft is in the rearview, OTA’s are kicking off across the league, and trade speculation is rampant. Today I’m going to be focusing on one of the most talented wide receivers to ever step on the gridiron, current Atlanta Falcon Julio Jones, and his fit within the Tennessee Titans. This pairing has been picking up a lot of steam within the national media and has been a polarizing topic within the Titans fan communities, so we’ll dive in and break down the reasons why this fit makes so much sense, as well as some of the arguments against it.
To start, let’s take a look at Julio Jones the player. Well known as one of the best WR’s of this generation (if not the best), Julio is coming off of his lowest year production-wise since 2013, a year in which he played 5 games. His 2020 season was also riddled with injuries, showing up on the injury report most of the season and only appearing in 9 games. Those 9 games still produced some elite-level production; 68 targets for 51 catches, 771 yards (15.1 YPC), and three touchdowns.
The touchdown number itself is a bit lower than one would expect, but that’s been a bit of a theme throughout his career. Also, if you look into his catch rate, he produced the highest catch rate of his career in 2020, coming in catching 75% of his targets. If you extrapolate those numbers into a full season, you’re looking at a WR putting up 91 catches on 121 targets for 1370 yards and right at 6 TDs. Not bad for a guy entering his age 32 season, and looking at those numbers, it’s easy to see why NFL, or more specifically Titans fans are giddy at the thought of adding such a weapon to their team’s offense.
Now, you can’t take those numbers and say that’s what you’re getting trading for Julio Jones; injuries are a fickle thing in the NFL, and he is on the wrong side of 30. Therein you reach one of the main arguments against trading for Julio Jones, you don’t give away assets for a guy past 30 and coming off an injury.
There are reports out from multiple media members that the Falcons want a first-round pick for Jones, and I’ll agree that’s a steep price to pay. However, there are also reports abound that league sources are highly skeptical that ATL will get that much, and think they will end up settling for a second-round pick (this is based on tweets from well-respected media members like Benjamin Allbright, Mike Florio, Adam Schein, and Josina Anderson, to name a few). At that price, I feel like taking a flyer on a guy who could still be an elite WR in the NFL is completely reasonable for a team with a depleted receiver room like the Titans have. Even if the Titans get the same product that Jones produced in 2020, he’d still have been the 3rd leading WR for the Titans, behind the departed Corey Davis and budding star AJ Brown.
Speaking of AJ Brown, he is another reason that trading for Julio Jones is such a smart move for the Titans. Most everyone that follows national media outlets had to see the TikTok that AJ Brown put out last week, recruiting Jones as hard as I’ve ever seen a professional athlete recruit someone publicly. It makes sense for Brown, he’s said on numerous occasions that Julio Jones is who he tries to emulate as a player, uniting such a young player with someone who he considers an idol is an easy way to gain some favor from that young player, especially when you consider that young star is well on his way towards being due a massive second contract.
AJ Brown isn’t the only Titan who has been publicly voicing their thoughts on adding Julio. Franchise cornerstones Taylor Lewan and Derrick Henry have tweeted multiple times expressing how much they want Jones on the Titans, and Henry has even been releasing videos of him and Jones working out this offseason together. With so many players that are so vital to your teams’ success clamoring for someone that’s at the one true positional hole on your team, a second-round pick is a no-brainer.
Building off of that last point, the Titans are currently one of the more complete rosters in the NFL. They’ve been a very good team for multiple years at this point, particularly on offense, where they entered the upper echelon of NFL offenses last season. The one position where you see a hole in the team is in the wide receiver room. Whereas last season you entered with AJ Brown, Corey Davis, and Adam Humphries leading the WR’s accompanied by TE’s Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser, you’ve replaced Corey Davis with solid but unspectacular Josh Reynolds, and they haven’t really filled out the vacancies left by Humphries and Smith, leaving a lot of targets to be accounted for.
Add Julio Jones into the mix, and what looked like a very thin group going into training camp then turns into a group that has the potential to be special. Not only would Jones take up a lot of the vacated targets, but he excels at 2 things the Titans need to add to this current group; being able to create yards after catch (YAC) and being able to take the top off of the defense. AJ Brown has been elite in the YAC category the past two seasons, but nobody else currently on the roster really offers much in that regard. As far as someone taking the top off of the defense and being a true deep threat, Tennessee has tried to fill that role with fringe players like Khalif Raymond and Cam Batson, but having a complete receiver who can always threaten a defense deep is something the Titans haven’t had in a looooong time and can completely change the dynamic of how their offense can operate.
The cap situation hovering around Julio Jones is also one that will take some gymnastics to sort out. With it being after the June 1st start of the league year, whatever team trades for him this season will take on a $7.75 million cap hit, according to OverTheCap.com. So on the surface, that should put the Titans out of the market, considering they’re in the bottom tier as far as cap space goes. However, the Titans have built their roster in a way that would allow for a lot of cap flexibility by restructuring some key players; most notably Ryan Tannehill, Taylor Lewan, and Derrick Henry. While most NFL contracts don’t require player consent to restructure, Henry has already made it known that he is open to it to bring on Jones, and as vocal as Lewan has been about adding Jones, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that he’s willing to restructure as well to open up some space.
One would think that Tannehill would be more than happy to do so as well, considering how dynamic of a weapon Jones would be for him to throw to. Now I’m not saying let’s go out and restructure all of the deals we can, that’s how teams like the Saints have gotten themselves into cap Hell, adding dummy years on to contracts to lessen the cap blow this season and things like that. However, Jon Robinson and company have shown extreme restraint and good judgment went it comes to the salary cap, and have said restructures are something they’re open to if needed to add the right player, so I trust them to make the call and not get the Titans into an unfavorable cap situation.
The final, and probably most notable, reason I believe a Titans-Julio Jones marriage makes a lot of sense, Jones wants to compete. He has been on a lot of bad teams in Atlanta. He wants to go to a team that will win games, and it’s hard to find many teams who have had as many winning seasons in a row as the Titans have had in recent memory; they haven’t finished worse than 9-7 since 2016.
One of the other big talking points I’ve been seeing is how the Falcons get to choose where he goes, not Jones, and in theory that’s completely true. However, Atlanta is a decent franchise. Owner Arthur Blank has been player friendly throughout his tenure, and new GM-HC combo Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith aren’t really in the position to full-on disregard the wishes of a franchise legend, which would sour a lot of potential free agents and current players from wanting to play there. Factor in the Arthur Smith-Titans connection, and that’s just another arrow that points toward this deal happening.
Julio Jones is one of the most prominent non-quarterback names to be looking for a new home in recent years. He’s been a staple in talks of the best WR in the NFL talks for years, and teams should absolutely be fighting like cats and dogs for him. I believe that the Titans are the team that makes the most sense for him, based on their current roster construction, cap situation, cultural fit, and giving Jones that opportunity late in his career to come in and compete. I don’t believe the Titans are full-on Super Bowl contenders currently, but by adding Jones to a roster as complete as theirs currently is, you put yourself right in the conversation with the Chiefs, Bills, and Browns as legitimate contenders in the AFC.