Julio Jones gave the Atlanta Falcons a decade of dominance. They returned the favor by honoring his trade request.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported the Falcons have agreed to send their star wide receiver to the Titans, along with a 2023 sixth-round pick, in exchange for 2022 second-round and 2023 fourth-round selections. The two teams later confirmed the deal, which will be official in the coming days following Jones' physical.
Tennessee avoided having to part with a first-round pick to acquire the seven-time Pro Bowler but is on the hook for all of his $15.3 million salary for 2021 and the remaining two years of his contract, Rapoport added. For the Falcons, who still assume $7.75 million in dead money, shedding Jones' larger cap hit allows them to sign their entire draft class.
Of course, it also gives the Titans one of the premier players in the game.
Jones has been the league's most prolific receiver over the past 10 seasons -- almost anyone's 10 seasons, really. Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson asserted that his recent play doesn't reflect a decline, either.
"We feel like we had a good football team coming into today … hopefully we've bolstered it today by adding Julio," Robinson said on a Sunday conference call, adding that a restructured deal could be coming. "He can run the full route tree, he's got really good size, he's got a long catch radius, good catching skills, he's strong with the ball in his hands. I still think he can push the field down vertically."
The 32-year-old Jones had made five consecutive All-Pro teams prior to laboring through a 2020 campaign on a strained hamstring. Despite appearing in only nine games, he still collected 51 catches for 771 yards, his 15.1 yards per catch right in line with his career average (15.2).
The Titans will gladly take such per-game production. The AFC South champs are just 17 months removed from reaching a conference title game, but their early exit in last season's playoffs combined with multiple key defections -- Arthur Smith shedding offensive coordinator duties to be Atlanta's head coach is tops among them -- lowered outside expectations heading into the summer. Acquiring Jones, as the Falcons can attest after selecting him in the first round of the 2011 draft, immediately raises the bar.
"Julio Jones will always be part of the Falcons story, having set numerous records and creating many great memories for all our fans, including me, since the day we drafted him," Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a statement. "He has been a fixture on our team for almost half the time I have owned the Falcons. As we both move in another direction, I'm deeply grateful for what Julio has done for our team and what he has meant to our city and, in my mind, he will always be part of the Falcons family. I wish him nothing but the best in Tennessee and throughout his life."
The longtime deep threat would appear to be an ideal fit alongside Ryan Tannehill, who was again one of the league's most efficient downfield passers last year. That might become a more prominent facet of the Titans offense moving forward given their 1-2 punch at WR with A.J. Brown and the workload Derrick Henry has had to carry the past two years. In fact, the All-Pro running back publicly campaigned for the fellow Alabama product once word spread this offseason that Jones had asked out of Atlanta before the draft.
Just days after the June 1 line of demarcation for a reduced cap figure, Jones finally got his wish. And so did Brown. Tennessee's promising wideout has been recruiting his "idol" for weeks, privately and through social media, going so far as to offer Jones his No. 11. Brown soon recanted after being told he couldn't have No. 1, which has been retired for Hall of Famer Warren Moon. The Titans landed the future Hall of Fame target, nonetheless.
Jones leaves Atlanta with a Super Bowl appearance and a plethora of franchise and NFL records on his resume, including receiving yards per game (95.5). He'll arrive in Tennessee as a fascinating piece in what could be a championship puzzle.