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So Shannon Sharpe, the former NFL great turned FS1 broadcaster, decided, while live on his television show Monday, to call Julio Jones.
Jones, the two-time All-Pro Atlanta wide receiver, answered and, apparently unaware that he was on television, quickly revealed that he isn’t going to be a Falcon for much longer.
“I’m out of there, man,” Jones said.
Here in the bizarro 2021 offseason, it somehow made sense that a franchise star would, perhaps unwittingly, reveal his future on live TV. After all, it feels like half the league’s quarterbacks are demanding trades, hosting game shows or fending off nearly two dozen civil lawsuits from massage therapists.
In some cases, it’s two out of the aforementioned three.
Jones had been reported to be on the trading block, of course, so this isn’t a shock. He’s had a legendary career with the Falcons, but he’s also 32 years old and set to cost $23 million against the salary cap this season and $19.3 million in each of the next two.
Atlanta went just 4-12 last year and is engaged in a pseudo rebuild. It’s sticking with quarterback Matt Ryan for now, but just drafted tight end Kyle Pitts fourth overall to bolster the passing attack. Expensive veteran wideouts don’t usually fit into these kinds of plans.
Ideally the Falcons would have dealt Jones prior to the draft, but for whatever reason that didn’t happen. Maybe they weren’t (and still aren’t) interested in having him “out of there.” Or maybe they didn’t get agreeable compensation — ESPN is reporting the Falcons want a future first-round pick, which seems aggressively, and likely prohibitively, high for Jones.
What’s he worth? That’s the question.
At his best, the 6-foot-3 Jones was nearly unstoppable, racking up at least 1,394 receiving yards in six consecutive seasons. He was a centerpiece of the 2016 Super Bowl team. In that game, his outrageous, outstretch, toe-tap, fourth-quarter catch would have gone down as NFL legend if the Falcons hadn’t gone on to boot the game away to New England.
Receivers tend to fall off the cliff when they hit 30, though, and last year Jones appeared in just nine games and scored just three touchdowns. Is there something still there? Most likely there is something. At least enough of something for the right team that’s looking to add a veteran receiving threat so it can make a run at a championship.
That is, apparently, what Jones wants too. When Sharpe asked him where he wanted to go, he brushed off a recent picture showing him in a Dallas Cowboys shirt and kept it simple.
“Right now, I want to win,” Jones said.
Maybe that’s New England, which might be willing to ship a second-rounder. Or maybe Las Vegas. Or maybe any number of AFC contenders that are on the brink — Cleveland, Buffalo, Baltimore, even Kansas City.
Really though, the entire exchange was a perfect encapsulation of this offseason, where drama, demands and unlikely news breaks have fueled relentless speculation about the season. A lot of it may have been dumb, but it hasn’t been dull.
Aaron Rodgers wants out of Green Bay, but he’s also hosting "Jeopardy!" Deshaun Watson wants out of Houston, but he may be suspended until he can sort out his off-field issues. Matthew Stafford wanted out of Detroit, and he got his wish by getting shipped to the Los Angeles Rams. Russell Wilson may have wanted out of Seattle, but that may have been patched up. Meanwhile, Tim Tebow is back.
Pretty much anything goes at this point, including cold calling interview subjects on live TV.
At least the public got some direct information. Most players don’t want to say anything on the record, leaving their wishes to be filtered out via unnamed sources to be parsed and debated for accuracy and perspective.
If Jones is, indeed, out of Atlanta then it ends a spectacular marriage between star player and franchise. Jones was almost always brilliant even if the rest of the Falcons weren’t — just four winning seasons in his 10 years there. He became the focus and rallying point for frustrated fans.
And when he nearly clinched them the Super Bowl, it looked like he might go down as an all-time legend in the city.
Now he’s apparently seeking somewhere to go and finally win it all, capping off a career with plenty of stats, plenty of money and one unlikely cable television debate show appearance that crystalized his future plans … whether he knew he was doing it or not.
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