ATLANTA, Ga. — While the blockbuster news in the National Football League over the weekend involved the Atlanta Falcons trading future Hall of Fame receiver Julio Jones to the Tennessee Titans, the move has reverberations that make it all the way to Tampa.
Jones was Atlanta’s best receiver, but his contract made it near-impossible for the Falcons to keep him on the roster and sign their incoming draft class and make other needed roster moves. The Falcons traded Jones for a 2022 second-round pick and a fourth-round pick in 2023 in exchange for the Titans getting Jones and a 2023 sixth-round pick.
Atlanta had to make the move for the future of the franchise. They couldn’t restructure his contract without causing future salary cap issues and there was no guarantee Jones would agree to restructure. But Atlanta was hamstrung by the salary cap and couldn’t make needed moves until they dealt with Jones.
He was a huge part of the offense and doesn’t show any signs of really slowing down anytime soon, even at the age of 31 (considered an older age in the NFL). Consider, over the last four seasons, when some in the league have claimed Jones has slowed down some, primarily due to injuries, all he did was continue putting up numbers. Since 2017, he’s put up 997 yards receiving per season, despite only playing nine games in 2020. He also did this while averaging 136 catches per season.
The Jones trade immediately weakened arguably the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ strongest competition in the NFC South division. The Carolina Panthers are in full rebuilding mode and will start a quarterback who was traded while still under his rookie contract in Sam Darnold. While Darnold wasn’t the only problem for the New York Jets; still, he still struggled, and the Panthers are hoping to salvage his potential he could never live up to with the Jets.
Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints may not have a viable quarterback on the roster. The presumed starter is someone Bucs fans will remember, and not fondly, Jameis Winston. He founded the 30-30 club (30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a single season) and threw 55 interceptions over his last three years as a starter with the Bucs. His main competition with the Saints will be gadget player Taysom Hill. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton is an offensive guru, but can he fix Winston and have him lead the Saints? Only time will tell.
This brings us back to the Falcons. Atlanta will have a Julio-less offense for the first time in a decade. The Falcons’ running game struggles have been constant, last year finishing 27th in the league. The defense couldn’t defend the pass last season, finishing dead last in the league in passing yards allowed and 27th in passing touchdowns allowed. Plus, the Falcons will be breaking in a new coach this season.
Add it all up and assuming future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady stays healthy for the Bucs; Tampa Bay should have a relatively easy road to the playoffs in the NFC South.