fb-pixel Skip to main content
Sunday football notes

Breaking down the Julio Jones sweepstakes and why the Patriots don’t look like a great fit

Julio Jones (left) is headed for the Hall of Fame someday, but he might not be the right fit in Foxborough.Danny Karnik/Associated Press

During a slow time on the NFL calendar, one story seems to be dominating the headlines: the landing spot for Julio Jones.

The Falcons’ superstar receiver confirmed that he wants to be traded when he told FS1′s Shannon Sharpe this past week, “I’m out of there, man,” (though Jones may not have known he was on live television). Falcons first-year general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith seem willing to oblige, especially since the Falcons only had $285,000 in salary-cap space as of Friday morning.

The line of demarcation for a Jones trade is Tuesday, as the Falcons will gain significantly more cap space if a trade happens after June 1. Let’s take a closer look at the salary-cap implications of a Jones trade from the perspectives of both the Falcons and the acquiring team; why I don’t think the Patriots will be the team that lands him; and which teams make the most sense:

Why would the Falcons trade Jones? He has been one of the NFL’s top receivers for the last decade and is likely headed to the Hall of Fame, but Jones is now 32 years old, missed seven games last year because of a lingering hamstring injury, and is expensive. He has three years and $38.3 million left on his contract — $15.3 million this year that is fully guaranteed, and two straight years of $11.5 million.


Trading Jones would leave the Falcons a little thin at receiver. But they still have an excellent wideout in Calvin Ridley (who is a free agent in two years), plus they just drafted dynamic tight end Kyle Pitts with the No. 4 overall pick.

Why after June 1? It allows the cap-strapped Falcons to spread out the dead cap money on Jones’s contract over two years. If they trade him before June 2, the Falcons have to take a dead cap hit of $23.25 million for this year. On June 2 and afterward, the Falcons will be left with a $7.75 million cap hit this year and $15.5 million next year. The Falcons need the extra salary-cap space to get through this year, and can roll over any unused space into next year.


What can the Falcons get for Jones? An ESPN report said the Falcons have been offered a future first-round pick, but that likely comes with a caveat: It may be a 2023 first-round pick, not 2022. It also depends on how much of Jones’s $15.3 million guaranteed salary the Falcons are willing to pick up.

The more the Falcons pay, the higher the draft pick they will get in return. If their concern is dumping Jones’s contract, the Falcons may not get more than a second- or third-round pick.

You don’t think the Patriots will get him? The Patriots have emerged as the betting favorite to get Jones, but I don’t see it (though I have learned to never say never with the Patriots).

Most notably, Jones is on the wrong side of all the important equations — old, coming off injury, and expensive. The last part is, I think, the most significant part of it. Robert Kraft already expressed trepidation this offseason over shelling out $175 million fully guaranteed to a boatload of free agents. That’s a record amount of offseason spending, and Kraft has to cover those guarantees with money put into escrow.


It seems a big request to ask Kraft to cut another $15 million check for an aging receiver who has had spotty practice attendance for years and had a balky hamstring in 2020. Plus, the Patriots would have to give up future draft picks, which doesn’t seem like the best way to build around Mac Jones.

As for the salary cap, the Patriots had $14.78 million in cap space as of Friday morning. So they would either need the Falcons to pick up some of the tab, or renegotiate Jones’s contract and commit to him for multiple years.

I’m also not convinced that splurging on Jones is the best fit for the Patriots’ offense. In 2021, the Patriots are designed around the tight ends, with wide receivers playing more of a complementary role. Look at their free agency spending — the big money went to two tight ends (Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry), while they paid modest money to second-tier receivers such as Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne.

Jones is obviously a tremendous talent who would improve any team, and even in an injury-plagued 2020 season, he still averaged 85 yards per game and had three games of at least 137 yards.

But Jones needs to be paired with a gunslinger, and that is definitely not Cam Newton. The Patriots are going to be a run- and play-action-based offense with quick, defined throws to the tight ends and slot receivers and the occasional deep ball to Agholor to keep defenses honest. The same is probably true if and when Mac Jones takes over the offense this year, as Bill Belichick wants to keep things as simple as possible for his rookie quarterback. Julio Jones’s talents would probably not be maximized in this offense.


So who are the fits? The team I have circled at the top of the list is the 49ers. They are all-in on this season after keeping Jimmy Garoppolo and drafting Trey Lance. They could use another top receiver alongside Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, and have a spot available after losing Bourne to the Patriots. Coach Kyle Shanahan was Jones’s offensive coordinator in 2015-16, culminating in a Super Bowl appearance. And the 49ers have the cap space to make it happen ($17.7 million). The Niners traded their first-round picks in 2022 and ’23, but could still get the trade done with a mid-round pick if they take on most or all of Jones’s contract.

The Colts are another team going all-in on trying to win a championship, have a need for a receiver next to T.Y. Hilton and Michael Pittman, and have decent cap space ($13.25 million).

The Bears don’t have much at receiver beyond Allen Robinson, need to make a splash, and are about to pick up $9 million in cap space on June 2.

The Titans certainly could use another receiver alongside A.J. Brown, who has been recruiting Jones heavily on social media. The problem is that the Titans only have $3.9 million in cap space and would need to make a few other moves to make a trade happen.


The Cowboys love big names and could use another receiver next to Amari Cooper, but they only have $8.5 million in cap space. The Raiders have talented receivers in Henry Ruggs and Hunter Renfrow and only $4.07 million in cap space, but trading for Jones seems like the quintessential Raiders move.

The Browns, Broncos, Chiefs, Packers, Vikings, Cardinals, and Washington also look like they could have some interest in Jones. Starting next week, let the derby begin.


Attendance low for offseason workouts

Jarrett Stidham (4) is one Patriot attending offseason workouts, as New England is missing much of its roster thus far.Steven Senne/Associated Press

One of the biggest stories of the offseason is how the players have wrestled some control of the voluntary offseason workout program away from the teams and coaches. For the first time, players across the league are staying away in droves.

The Patriots were missing nearly one-third of their roster, including much of the starting lineup, for Thursday’s practice, which would have been unthinkable in previous years under Bill Belichick. Workouts for the Seahawks and Buccaneers have also been relatively empty.

A handful of teams have had excellent attendance — Las Vegas, Detroit, Miami, Washington, Philadelphia, and others — but almost all of those agreed to lighter practices, a shortened schedule, or in Miami’s case, mandatory flip-flops for players during walkthroughs to ensure that the pace remains slow.

The issue of skipping the voluntary offseason has split players down the middle. While new Patriot Jonnu Smith has decided to stay away and train on his own, fellow tight end Hunter Henry is participating, despite the fact that he once tore his ACL at an offseason workout and missed the 2018 season.

“I honestly thoroughly enjoy this time of year,” Henry said. “It’s a great time before training camp comes to just get a lot of reps in that maybe we can’t get back. It’s fun to be around the guys and to build this team chemistry as we go into the season.”

On the other end is Tom Brady, who was a vocal participant on a Zoom call open to all NFL players earlier this month encouraging them to skip the voluntary workouts. Brady is going out of his way to skip the Buccaneers’ workouts, even after coach Bruce Arians agreed to cut the number of practices from 10 to six and to sit the starters during practice.

Earlier this past week, Brady and his receivers gathered for a throwing workout at the Yankees’ spring training facility, which is across the street from the Buccaneers’ complex. Friday, Brady and his receivers worked out at the Buccaneers’ facility, but only after Arians promised that no coaches would be in attendance.

Brady also skipped the Patriots’ offseason in 2018 and ’19, so his crusade against offseason workouts is several years in the making. On the Zoom call, Brady called the coach-player dynamic “very one-sided.”

“Show up, we’ll pay you a limited amount, do the work that we tell you to do, play on our schedule, and it doesn’t matter how intense these practices go, you guys are going to do it, because this is what we tell you to do,” Brady said.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think Brady’s issues are with Arians. Instead, it seems like Brady is sending a direct message to his previous coach in Foxborough: I can train on my own and still win Super Bowls, thank you very much.


Some points of comparison

A first-round pick, Mac Jones' $15.58 million, four-year contract is fully guaranteed.Steven Senne/Associated Press

Mac Jones is forever going to be linked to the other four quarterbacks drafted in the first round this year. But the more fascinating comparison will be between Jones, Kellen Mond, and Davis Mills.

The Patriots didn’t have a shot at drafting Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, or Trey Lance, and it’s understandable that they did not want to give up a future first-round pick for Justin Fields. Their decision at quarterback, then, came down to drafting Jones at No. 15, or waiting until later in the draft to get Mond (who went with the 66th overall pick in the third round) or Mills (67th overall). Mills, especially, seems like the best comparison for Jones, since he was drafted by Nick Caserio and the Texans.

The Patriots are investing a lot more money into Jones. His predetermined contract is not yet signed but will pay him $15.58 million over four years. Since Jones was a first-round pick, every dollar is fully guaranteed.

Mills, who signed his contract this past week, signed a four-year deal worth $5.22 million. The only guarantee is his signing bonus, which is $1.16 million. Mond’s contract will be a notch higher since he went one pick earlier.

If Jones turns out to be good, his contract will still be a major bargain relative to other starting quarterbacks. And if he’s a bust, it won’t set the Patriots back a ton (although they will have to start all over again on a quarterback search). But there is far less risk attached to Mills and Mond. We’ll see within a few years whether Jones was worth it.

Vinatieri’s most underrated kick?

Bill Belichick believes Adam Vinatieri's game-winning kick in Super Bowl XXXVIII is one of his most underrated.BOHN, John Globe Staff

The tributes to Adam Vinatieri this past after he officially announced his retirement rightfully focused on his two most memorable kicks: the 46-yarder against the Raiders in the 2001 Snow Bowl, and the winner against the Rams for the Patriots’ first Super Bowl title.

But I loved Bill Belichick’s answer on Thursday when he gave props to one of Vinatieri’s biggest kicks that doesn’t get mentioned as much — the 41-yarder with four seconds left to beat Carolina in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

“That’s probably one of the all-time great field goal rush teams,” Belichick said of the 2003 Panthers. “Those guys were long, strong, explosive off the ball, and were hard to block. And so, not only the kick, but the kick against a really good rush, having to get the ball up — I mean a bad kick there, that could easily have gone the other way. So, I think that was really probably one of the underrated kicks that Adam had, just because of the degree of difficulty on the other side of the ball.

“I thought the Carolina kick was an underrated, great kick. I mean, a game-winning kick in a Super Bowl, I don’t know how you can say that’s underrated, but that was a good rush team.”

I searched way too long and came up empty with stats for all-time leaders in blocked field goals. But the 2003 Panthers did block three field goals and an extra point during the regular season, and a 36-yard attempt by Vinatieri in the second quarter of the Super Bowl. The Panthers got two blocked kicks from Kris Jenkins and one each by Julius Peppers, Mike Minter, and Shane Burton (in the Super Bowl) that year.

Extra points

Tua Tagovailoa wasn't as comfortable with the Dolphins playbook last season as most expected.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa made a fairly stunning admission this past week, that he wasn’t comfortable calling plays or making changes at the line of scrimmage in 2020. “I didn’t actually know the playbook necessarily really, really good, and that’s no one else fault but my fault,” he said via the Miami Herald. “Our play calls were simple when I was in. I didn’t have alerts and checks. I just rode with the play, even if I knew it wasn’t going to work.” These comments make it obvious that Tagovailoa didn’t earn the job last year and that he was simply handed the job over a clearly superior Ryan Fitzpatrick. That decision may have cost the Dolphins, who missed the playoffs by one game. The 2021 season will be make-or-break for Tagovailoa and his future in Miami, and these comments only intensify the microscope on him … Peyton Manning told the Denver Post this past week that he recently spent some time watching film with Drew Lock. “Since I’ve retired, I’ve always tried to be somewhat of a resource for whoever the [Broncos’] quarterback is,” Manning said. It is interesting that Manning has remained more of a Bronco in retirement than a Colt … In light of no players being drafted from Historically Black Colleges and Universities this year, the NFL and Senior Bowl will hold an HBCU combine during next January’s Senior Bowl week, ensuring the prospects get exposure to all 32 teams … Jimmy Garoppolo decided he wasn’t going to pout when he was told that the 49ers intend to trade up and draft a quarterback. “When it initially happened, there’s a million emotions that go on throughout your head,” Garoppolo said via NBC Sports Bay Area. “It took a little while to process everything. But once I did, it was just, ‘Go out there and ball.’ You’ve got to go out and attack it. The NFL is a crazy business. Things happen, but you have to attack it day by day and make the best of it.”

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.