The Atlanta Falcons haven't quashed questions about trading Julio Jones this offseason. As rumors persist, Matt Ryan is facing the prospect of playing without the transformative talent for the first time in a decade.
Asked about the prospect of the Falcons trading Jones, Ryan said Tuesday that he doesn't meddle in the business aspect of football.
"I love Julio. I've been so lucky to play with him for the past decade, and he's an unbelievable player," Ryan said. "I don't get involved in this side of it. From a teammate, from a player standpoint, he's my teammate. He's my guy. And you let the other side of it shake out how it is. But I know this: He's always ready to go. He's an incredible competitor and one of the best to ever do it at his position. So he'll have himself ready to go. There's no question about that."
When Atlanta restructured Ryan's contract earlier this offseason, the club signaled a commitment to the veteran QB for beyond this year. By passing on a signal-caller in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Falcons doubled down on that plan.
It would make sense for the Falcons to keep Julio at least one more season. Doing so would give Ryan an explosive array of weapons, including the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver, Calvin Ridley (a rising star in his own right), and dynamic rookie Kyle Pitts, taken with the No. 4 overall pick. Eschewing a trade would give Atlanta the best chance at a quick turnaround.
No decision is made in a vacuum, however. New Falcons GM Terry Fontenot has to decide whether shedding Jones' contract with a post-June 1 trade to free up cap space is best for the long-term flexibility of the club. It's a classic team-building question Fontenot must ultimately answer.
Coming from New Orleans -- where kicking the can down the salary-cap road has been a staple -- one could see Fontenot riding with Julio and figuring it out later. The GM, however, has said on the record he'd consider all possibilities given the cap situation. NFL Network's Steve Wyche reported that the Falcons would continue to listen to trade offers for Jones if teams call.
Ryan didn't want to delve into the possibility that he could have played his last down with Jones.
"I don't know," Ryan said when asked what the offense might look like without Jones. "He's been such a cornerstone of what we've done for a long time. I don't know. That's a hypothetical. I don't really want to go down that road. That's not really my business. But he's been such a great player, he's a hell of a teammate. I love him. We'll see how things shake out, but he's probably impacted my career more significantly than any other player. I've been really fortunate to be around him for as long as I have."
Since Jones arrived, Ryan has made three Pro Bowls, been named first-team All-Pro, won an NFL MVP and been to the Super Bowl. Ryan has thrown for 4,000-plus yards every year since Jones was drafted -- 10 straight seasons -- after falling short of that mark each of his first three campaigns sans the star wideout.
The Falcons might have enough firepower to compete if they traded away Jones, but it would certainly put a massive dent in how creative Arthur Smith can get in his first year as coach in Atlanta.