The Julio Jones experiment didn’t last very long in Nashville, as the Tennessee Titans released the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver after acquiring the wideout from the Atlanta Falcons just […]
The Julio Jones experiment didn’t last very long in Nashville, as the Tennessee Titans released the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver after acquiring the wideout from the Atlanta Falcons just a season ago.
I originally predicted Jones would put the Titans offense over the top, but the former Falcons receiver suffered an injury-riddled, underwhelming season. Jones played in ten games, catching 31 passes for 434 yards and a touchdown. Jones has now played ten games or less in back-to-back seasons, which broke a six-season streak of both eclipsing 1,000 receiving yards as well as being selected as a Pro Bowler.
Jones now enters free agency at 33 years old, looking to prove he’s still a top receiving threat in the league when healthy. It’s likely Jones seeks a short-term, incentive-laden deal with a playoff contender to both re-establish himself and compete for a Super Bowl.
The New England Patriots went 10-7 and made the playoffs last season as a wildcard team, but fell to the Buffalo Bills in their first playoff matchup after a defensive breakdown. While signing Jones wouldn’t shore up that defense, second-year quarterback Mac Jones could absolutely use more weapons to increase the offense’s production. Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne were solid options last season, but a healthy, productive Julio Jones would give Mac Jones a true go-to wide receiver. Jones is a couple years past his prime, so he might not exactly emulate Randy Moss in New England. But the Patriots could be a no-nonsense landing spot for Jones to re-establish himself as a top receiving threat.
Green Bay Packers
The Davante Adams saga in Green Bay is over, with the Packers unloading the uber-talented wide receiver to the Las Vegas Raiders after his refusal to return to Green Bay on a franchise tag. This creates a glaring hole at the wide receiver position, with Aaron Rodgers losing his number one target just days after signing an extension with the Packers. Rodgers still has Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Malik Taylor, Amari Rodgers, and Juwan Winfree on the roster, but I would be shocked if Green Bay didn’t want to add at least one more veteran wide receiver to the mix. That could come in the form of Jarvis Landry or even Odell Beckham Jr., but I also expect the Packers to do their due diligence on Jones.
From Jones’ perspective, Green Bay would be a great landing spot to chase a Super Bowl ring immediately. But after spending his entire career in Atlanta and Nashville, the cold Wisconsin weather could potentially be a turn-off.
The Baltimore Ravens have a knack for getting solid production out of veteran players that other teams have tossed to the side, and could benefit greatly from giving Lamar Jackson another weapon in the passing game. Marquise Brown and Rashod Bateman are a great pair of wide receivers, but Baltimore’s depth at the position could use some bolstering. Enter Julio Jones on a one-year deal with a cheap base salary with heavy performance-based incentives. In a best-case scenario, Jones emerges as Baltimore’s top receiver and adds a new level of verticality to the Ravens offense. Worst case, assuming Jones at least remains healthy, he could be a serviceable addition to the offense that helps keep defenses guessing where the ball is going on any given play. The Ravens already have the talent to be a Super Bowl contender (starting 8-3 last season before Jackson and a myriad of other players went down,) and Jones could compete for his first Super Bowl ring as soon as this upcoming season in Baltimore.
San Francisco 49ers
I didn’t originally intend on putting the San Francisco 49ers on this list, as the NFC runner-up from last season has bigger needs than wide receiver. Besides unicorn Deebo Samuel, the 49ers have Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, and tight end George Kittle in the passing game. But San Francisco was firmly in the mix for Jones’ services last off-season, and now that Jones is a free agent and not a trade target, the 49ers may be even more inclined to add Jones to their roster.
While there’s uncertainty at quarterback (though it looks more like Jimmy Garoppolo will be back as quarterback vacancies dry up,) Jones would be a great complement to Samuel in the passing game. The 49ers would also seem to offer a situation where they can compete for a Super Bowl with or without Jones on the roster: meaning Jones wouldn’t be pressured to come in and be an All-Pro pass-catcher right off the bat.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Finally, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers make another intriguing landing spot for the six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver. With Tom Brady un-retiring to compete for one more Super Bowl, Tampa Bay is all-in on next season, and Brady is reportedly advocating for Jones himself. The rich would get richer, as Brady already has Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at his disposal. Jones could fill the void left by Antonio Brown, who for as much of a headache as he was, was a key contributor in the passing game when healthy and engaged.
Putting Jones alongside Evans and Godwin would give Brady the best tools possible to still remain one of the best passers in the league, as well as compete for Super Bowl 57. The additional depth and veteran leadership Jones would provide would be valuable too, as Tampa Bay’s offense sputtered down the stretch last season following Godwin’s season-ending injury and Brown’s abrupt departure.
New Orleans Saints
After terrorizing the New Orleans Saints as an opposing NFC South player for ten seasons, it would definitely be odd to see Jones suited up in black and gold. But if the Saints are serious about contending next season, Jones would be a valuable asset to add to the offense.
Michael Thomas should be back next season, and Jones could thrive as a second option next to one of the NFL’s most prolific pass-catchers. The Saints have young talent at the wide receiver position, including Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris, but a big-bodied veteran like Jones would round out the Saints offensive arsenal in a number of ways.
Signing with New Orleans would keep Jones in his natural geographic zone, the southeast, but the only caveat would be the quarterback situation. If the Saints don’t re-sign Jameis Winston or land Deshaun Watson, Jones would likely be off the table. But especially if Watson lands in New Orleans, Jones could be enticed to join a new-look superteam.
UPDATE 3/20: Watson has been traded to the Cleveland Browns, but I still would consider New Orleans a landing spot for Jones if the Saints retain Jameis Winston as their starting quarterback.
Coming home and returning to the Atlanta Falcons after just one season away from the team only happens in one scenario as far as I’m concerned: the Falcons landing Deshaun Watson. Coming back to a declining, Matt Ryan-led roster would be falling in reverse for Jones, but if the Falcons get their hands on Watson, Jones could return to the franchise that drafted him with a new flair.
There’s an obvious need at wide receiver in Atlanta, who only has four wideouts on the roster following Calvin Ridley’s year-long suspension for betting on games. The Falcons finished 7-10 with an outside shot at the playoffs near the end of last season, but again, I don’t see Jones returning to a middle-of-the-road Falcons team.
But alongside Watson and second-year tight end Kyle Pitts, Jones could return to the Falcons on a prove-it deal and immediately contribute.
UPDATE 3/20: With Watson’s last-minute change of heart from Atlanta to Cleveland as his preferred trade destination, the odds of Jones returning the the Falcons seem drastically low. It’s not impossible, but unless Jones really wants a homecoming, he has plenty of better places to re-establish himself and compete for a Super Bowl ring.
UPDATE 3/28: With Matt Ryan being traded to the Colts, Jones chance of returning to Atlanta drop even lower, and they were already pretty low. Unless Jones really wants to be back in Atlanta, it seems unlikely he would want to return under the current, rebuilding circumstances.
Updated 3/28: Indianapolis Colts
I thought about including the Indianapolis Colts in my original list of seven teams. But after the Colts traded for long-time Falcons quarterback and former NFL MVP Matt Ryan, Indianapolis is an undeniably attractive landing spot for Jones. The former Falcons wide receiver can reconnect with the quarterback connection that has made his career so successful, and compete for a Super Bowl once again as a duo.
The Colts possess a great number one option in Michael Pittman Jr., who is entering his third NFL season after hauling in 88 catches for 1,082 yards and six touchdowns in 2021. While Pittman Jr. will remain the top receiving threat in Matt Ryan’s new offense, Indianapolis could use more depth at the position. Zach Pascal, last year’s second option at the position, left for the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency this offseason.
With a one-two punch of Pittman Jr. and Jones at wide receiver and Jonathan Taylor, one of the hottest running backs in the league, a new-look Indianapolis offense could potentially be well-rounded and lethal.
A Ryan-Jones reunion has always been on the table, and there seems to be mutual interest (with Pro Bowl linebacker Darius Leonard even publicly advocating for Jones to come to sign with the Colts) in making this dream a reality in Indianapolis.
Updated 3/28: Cleveland Browns
I’ve theorized all along that Deshaun Watson and Julio Jones could bring their redemption tours to the same franchise, so now that Watson finally has a home with the Cleveland Browns, the rumors can continue to swirl. While there’s no official interest noted between the two parties, Jones would certainly add to the weapons at Watson’s disposal with his new team.
Gone are Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., with former Dallas Cowboys Amari Cooper arriving via trade to be Cleveland’s top receiving threat. But like all good situations on this list, a healthy Jones could thrive opposite a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver.
The Browns have gone all-in on Watson, and doing their due diligence to see if they can add Jones on a cheap prove-it deal is the least they can do to ensure Watson has the tools he needs to succeed in Cleveland.
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