Julio Jones spent the first 10 years of his career as a member of the Falcons. He was long the No. 1 target for Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and ranks No. 1 in team history in total catches (848) and receiving yards (12,896).
Nonetheless, the Falcons decided ahead of the 2021 NFL season that it was time for the two sides to part ways. Atlanta is preparing for a rebuild under new leadership — coach Arthur Smith and GM Terry Fontenot — and Jones just didn’t seem to fit in.
Jones was entering his age-32 season in 2021 and was coming off a campaign during which he missed seven games. The Falcons have Calvin Ridley, 26, on their roster and were comfortable with the idea of him serving as a No. 1 receiver. The Falcons weren’t shaping up to be a playoff team, so Fontenot and Co. explored mutually beneficial trade options for the two sides.
The Titans emerged as one. Tennessee had a couple of strong-looking offensive weapons in Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown, but they needed to make sure they had a third weapon at Ryan Tannehill’s disposal. So, they got involved in trade talks with the Falcons and ultimately swung a deal for Jones.
How did the Julio Jones trade happen? What compensation was exchanged in the deal? And is Jones paying off for the Titans? Here’s everything to know about one of the blockbuster trades that occurred during the 2021 NFL offseason.
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Julio Jones trade details
- Titans get: WR Julio Jones, 2023 sixth-round draft pick
- Falcons get: 2022 second-round draft pick, 2023 fourth-round draft pick
The Titans shipped a 2022 second-round pick to the Falcons in exchange for Jones. The veteran receiver came with a $23 million cap hit, so Tennessee had to rework some of their contracts to fit Jones in under the salary cap. They had just about $5.4 million in space before trading for Jones.
That included Jones’ contract. He agreed to restructure his deal to open up $11.2 million in cap space for the Titans. That’s how they were able to afford Jones while surrendering only draft capital.
Meanwhile, the Falcons were able to acquire a second-round pick in exchange for a 32-year-old pass catcher that no longer fit their timeline for contention. They absorbed a dead cap hit of $7.75 million in 2021 and $15.5 million in 2022 after parting with Jones.
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Julio Jones contract
Jones is in the first year of a three-year extension worth $66 million. He agreed to that deal back in 2019 when he was still with the Falcons. That said, the Titans won’t be paying that much for Jones, as the Falcons are paying part of Jones’ signing bonus and option bonus — which amounts to their dead cap hit of $23.25 million.
The Titans, as a result, never have to pay Jones more than $14.3 million annually as part of their deal. He is slated to make about $38.3 million from the Titans, pending guarantees and incentives. Here’s a full breakdown of his contract with the Titans, per OverTheCap.com.
|Year||Age||Base Salary||Prorated Bonus||Guaranteed Salary||Cap Number||Cap %|
Two things stand out about Jones’ deal. First, his salary contains few guarantees, so the Titans can part with him at any time should he regress. It would be easiest to do that before the 2023 NFL season since he will have no guaranteed money left on his deal at that point.
Second, his contract contains two void years after the 2023 season. So, while there is money accounted for in 2024 and 2025, these void years — a tool used to allow teams to defer player payments ito the future — are just placeholders that the Titans added to defray Jones’ current cost and maximize their cap space. So, Jones won’t officially be on the roster in 2024 unless he signs a new contract.
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Why the Titans traded for Julio Jones
The Titans’ decision to trade for Jones had a lot to do with their offseason losses, as Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer detailed.
The Titans lost Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith this offseason, and the cap circumstances coming out of the pandemic forced Tennessee GM Jon Robinson and coach Mike Vrabel to make other tough decisions on the roster as well. Getting Jones offered them the chance to juice their team with a potential game-changer after a tumultuous few months.
That certainly makes sense. Davis, Smith and Adam Humphries combined for 192 targets last season, so the Titans needed somebody to step up and soak up those targets. Jones had averaged 156 per 16 games played at the time of the trade, so he seemed like a nice, high-volume compliment to A.J. Brown.
Additionally, as Mike Vrabel explained, Jones had the skill set that Titans coveted.
“I think this gives a lot of versatility to where we can line guys up and how we function as an offense,” Vrabel said, per SI. “I am unquestionably excited about having him.”
It also helped Jones’ cause that he was a veteran. Vrabel envisioned Jones as being key to helping coach up the other young receivers on the roster, like Brown.
“There are ways to do things that veteran players that have been successful in this league can also try to explain things to younger players,” Vrabel said. “Sometimes those are your best coaches. I am sure he can provide some of that.”
In Vrabel’s estimation, Jones’ presence would also open up opportunities for Brown and the team’s other receivers to get open in the passing game.
“His impact can obviously help a lot of people,” Vrabel said.
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How Julio Jones has fared for the Titans so far
Jones has played in just three games during his Titans tenure. He has continued to battle lower-body injuries — a problem during his time wtih the Falcons — and was out of action the last two weeks with a hamstring malady.
That said, Jones has posted 12 catches for 208 yards when he has been on the field and he had a six-catch, 128-yard game for the Titans in their Week 2 win over the Seahawks. He has proven to be effective when on the field and will look to win deep against the Bills on Monday.