When Julio Jones decided to miss mandatory minicamp back in June it became clear the Falcons had a big decision to make. Jones made the decision to skip the minicamp hoping to force the Falcons into renegotiating his contract. At the time I wrote that it was not as big of a deal as people were making it out to be. However, with the veteran training camp date (July 26) approaching and still no contract news, things were coming to a head. Something had to give because the closer it got to the season the more of a disturbance it was going to become to the Falcons season preparations. The Falcons have finally made their position public, they are not planning to renegotiate at this stage. So why will the Falcons not reward their star pass catcher? What does this now mean for Jones?
The Falcons decision
There is no denying Jones is a huge part of the Falcons offense. He has had four straight years over 1,400 yards receiving. He has also had six or more touchdowns in three of those last four years. Quite simply he is their biggest non-Matt Ryan offensive weapon. The pressure was even higher on Falcons GM Tom Dimitroff given that the Falcons window is starting to close. The young defense is getting closer to second contracts and offensive lineman Jake Matthews is now in the last year of his deal.
On the other hand, there is the risk of setting a new precedent in the NFL. Renegotiating a contract with three years remaining is generally not the done thing and no NFL team wants to be the one that opens the flood gates. Therefore, it seems that the deal with Jones is that while nothing will be done right now, it will be addressed next year. Whether that is enough to convince Jones is yet to be seen.
What does Jones do now?
Jones’ position is extremely interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he is now entering his age 29 season meaning that if this contract was to run its course he would be nearly 32 before he negotiated a new one. Now 32 is not totally past it, but Jones will certainly be past his prime and his bargaining power will reduce significantly. However, renegotiate now and he can command numbers among the best paid receivers in the league.
The issue for Jones is that he is not coming off his strongest year. Last year Jones had just three touchdowns in 16 games. The only year that was worse was his injury hit 2013 season. He also had his lowest catch percentage rate (59.5 percent) since his rookie season and his lowest yards per game since his sophomore season. This makes it hard for Jones to bargain. The Falcons can say he may be on the decline and he needs to prove 2017 was a fluke. However, if it was a decline Jones may feel that and it forces the issue even more for him. If he has another rough season then the Falcons are not on the hook for much money the last two seasons.
This leaves Jones with a couple of options. One, report and prove he is still a dominant receiver, and the player recently voted #4 in the NFL top 100. Do that and the rewards could be incredible. The second option doesn’t bear thinking about. Jones could consider holding out into the preseason and potentially into the season.
What happens if he holds out?
A hold out would put a huge strain on the relationship between Jones and the Falcons. That relationship currently still seems good. Jones and the team have reportedly had strong communication throughout this offseason. Jones also attended a training session with Matt Ryan and other team mates recently. However, that mood can change quickly.
If Jones makes it clear he is not coming to training camp then the Falcons have huge decision to make. The team will need to carry on without him and start planning as though he will not be part of the season. However, the front office will have to seriously consider if they are willing to risk the uproar of letting him sit out. Not renegotiating at that point will likely divide fan support. Some will blame the team for not giving the player what he feels he deserves. Others will say that Jones signed a contract and should honor that. Either way it will likely cause a lot of friction around the team.
The final word
At this stage I expect to see Jones come to training camp. The fact he came to the Matt Ryan led training session is a really promising sign. It is one thing to put pressure on your organisation but it is another thing to disadvantage your team mates. However, there is a chance Jones might send a warning signal by not reporting immediately and then things might get interesting.