Well, well. Curiouser and curiouser. Julio Jones has “informed” the Atlanta Falcons – this from a statement by general manager Thomas Dimitroff, released at 5 p.m. Monday – that “he will not be attending mini-camp.” Dimitroff characterized this as “not ideal,” which I believe can itself be characterized as an understatement.
Then, perhaps through gritted teeth, Dimitroff concluded: “We have great respect for what he means to our team, our city and our fans.”
Two weeks ago, coach Dan Quinn said he expected Jones at this week’s mini-camp, which is mandatory, except for when it’s not. That the Falcons’ best player – Matt Ryan is the most valuable, but Jones is the best – will be absenting himself from these three-day festivities brings to a head an apparent disgruntlement that began, as all disgruntlements begin in our changing world, with a removal of the team logo from someone’s social media.
(Dennis Schroder of the Hawks did something similar not long ago, which might have had more effect if he’d played for someone other than the Hawks.)
Until Monday, the word was that Jones was expected in Hall County this week. Now he has said – according to the Falcons – that he’ll be elsewhere. Unlike in other offseasons, there’s no physical issue involved. He’s not off rehabbing. He’s not coming because he doesn’t want to be here. When your best player doesn’t want to play football, that’s not a feel-good moment.
The belief here remains that this will amount to not very much – that he and the Falcons will run their respective sums and hit on a dollar figure that will make Jones want to play football (for them, I stress) again. But that it has come to this on the Good Ship Arthur will please no one, the owner least of all.
From Jones’ perspective, it’s surely difficult to see lesser receivers – in the NFL, every receiver is less than No. 11 – make more money. It couldn’t have been a delight to see the Falcons trumpet the redone contract that makes Ryan the sport’s highest-salaried player. Jones has always been a good teammate, but he has feelings, too. You know?
From the Falcons’ side, he did sign a contract. For a time, he was the league’s top-paid receiver. Now he’s seventh on the list, behind even the legendary Jarvis Landry. That can happen when you sign a contract: You trade marketability for security. The fourth-down pass in Philadelphia notwithstanding, Jones is usually pretty adept at timing things. At market timing, alas, he whiffed.
And there’s your tangle. The Falcons cannot simply tear up his contract because it has three years to run and, if they splurge on him after splurging on Ryan, they’ll soon have to win games 62-59 because they won’t be able to keep their swift young defenders. The NFL’s hard cap makes, ahem, for hard choices. If Jones is indeed serious about wanting to be paid what he’s worth now, as opposed to three years ago, the Falcons will be forced into a choice they absolutely don’t want to make.
We say again: There’s every chance it won’t come to that. Surely a Blank Charm Offensive will be in the offing, and there’s always entertainment value therein. But Jones’ sudden reservations have wrong-footed his employers. They didn’t see this coming. They can’t be sure where it will lead, financially but not just financially.
The Falcons style themselves as a Brotherhood, all for one and all that jazz. They haven’t had an issue like this in a while, and never with such a contract. (They redid Roddy White’s deal in 2009, but that had only one year to run.) And the trouble with making a team reassess your value, which seems to be what Jones wants, is that there’s no guarantee they’ll see you the way you see yourself.
Julio Jones is a great talent. Nobody denies that. He’s also 29 and coming off a season that saw him catch three – that’s correct, three – touchdown passes. He dropped seven passes. He caught six of 22 passes thrown to him in the red zone. Maybe this was Steve Sarkisian’s fault for not scheming him open, or maybe it was that the great receiver wasn’t getting open the way great receivers do.
Ryan is 32, but he was a sound investment because quarterbacks of his stature can age well and he has little history of injury. Jones has a long list of ailments, almost always leg-related, and legs are rather important for a receiver. Even if the Falcons had the wherewithal to sign him to a new six-year contract, they shouldn’t. Larry Fitzgerald has held up well by wideout standards, but he’s not yet 35. The Falcons cannot in good conscience be paying Jones $15 million at age 35.
For the third time: At some point, reason should prevail. Jones figures to be on the field in Philly come Sept. 6, and maybe he won’t slip in the end zone this time. But he’s putting the Falcons in a place they don’t want to be, and for both sides – to borrow Dimitroff’s words – that’s not ideal.