The possibility the Falcons could trade star receiver Julio Jones leaked from every avenue of the NFL national reporting establishment on Monday, creating a frenzy about the possibility of one of the best players in the league changing clubs.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Atlanta received trade calls for Jones. Any trade would be executed after June 1 to help spread the dead-money cap hit over two seasons and give the cap-strapped Falcons relief. Rapoport joined Peter King of NBC Sports and Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated in reporting interest in trading Jones.
New Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot, when asked by Justin Felder of FOX 5 Sports directly about the reports, didn't deny them or even try to suppress the topic. Instead, he was honest about the Falcons' salary cap situation, which necessitates considering every possible mode of mending, including parting with one of the club's all-time greats.
"That's one of those things that when you're doing things the right way in an organization, you have to listen if people call on any player," Fontenot said. "Especially, we are in a difficult cap situation. That's just the circumstance. It's not a surprise for us. We knew the circumstance we were in. Our administration has done an excellent job up to this point, getting us in position to be able to manage the cap. Yet, we still have more work to do. So, when teams call about any players, then we have to listen, and we have to weigh it, and we have to determine what's best for the organization, and we have to handle everything with class. Obviously, that particular player we hold him in high regard. He's special, what he's done and what he continues to do here, but we have to consider any players if it's right for the team because we have to do what's best for this organization."
The Falcons are in salary-cap hell. According to Over The Cap, Atlanta doesn't even currently have enough space needed to sign its rookie class. Moves will need to be made.
Trading Jones post-June 1 would create $15.3 million in cap space in 2021, with a bigger dead-money hit coming in 2022. Trading him before June 1 would not alleviate the Falcons' cap situation, thus won't happen, though a swap could be agreed to as soon as this week.
With the need to execute a trade down the line, the Falcons would be looking at trade compensation coming in the likely form of 2022 draft picks. Given some GMs' shaky opinion of evaluating the 2021 draft due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that might be a preferred compensation for ATL.
The 32-year-old Jones played in just nine games in 2020, his fewest since 2013. The question for any team trading for the star receiver is whether last year was a minor blip for one of the game's best field-tilters or a sign of a decline.
Fontenot's willingness to openly discuss trading Jones should only fan the flames ahead of Thursday's draft.