Exploring A Potential Julio Jones Trade For The Chargers
It’s officially that time of the offseason where teams leak that they are trying to trade certain veterans to free up cap space. Usually, that means mid-tier players (IE Russell Okung and Trai Turner last year) but this year there is an elite and all-time great player up for grabs in Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons. They reportedly tried to trade him before the draft but nothing panned out. Jeff Schultz of The Athletic reported early this morning that they are still looking to trade the long-time Falcon.
He mentioned a few teams that would fit the mold of possible suitors via trade and the Los Angeles Chargers were one of the teams that he thinks could be a good fit. It’s important to note that he is not necessarily reporting anything concrete, but rather he is outlining why it could work for both sides.
This would obviously be a massive, franchise-altering development so let’s dive in.
First and foremost is the cost it would take to acquire him. Jones has three years left on his current contract and has remaining cap hits of $23 million, $19 million, and $19 million, respectively. This is why the Falcons are trying to move him. They need to gain some cap relief in the worst way possible.
Whoever trades him will NOT have to take on 100% of that contract, as the Falcons would still owe him money over that remaining time. According to OverTheCap, the Chargers in this case would only take on $15.3 million this year, and $11.5 million over the next two years. There is an out in his contract after the 2022 season, though. The Chargers absolutely have the cap space to make this deal work, as they still have around $20 million in cap space for 2021.
In terms of draft compensation, we haven’t seen a player of this caliber or age be traded in quite some time so it’s a little difficult to precisely predict what it would cost the Chargers. DeAndre Hopkins had just turned 27 when he was traded, and the Cardinals absolutely fleeced the Texans for his services. The Texans received running back David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick (which they traded for Brandin Cooks), and a 2021 fourth-round pick (which they used to trade up for wide receiver Nico Collins last month).
The Giants traded Odell Beckham Jr to the Browns for a future first-round pick (which became defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence), a future third-round pick (which became defensive end Oshane Ximines), and safety Jabrill Peppers.
I think it is unlikely that a 32-year-old wide receiver coming off the worst season in his career would cost a future first-round pick like Beckam Jr did. The PFF team floated out this idea (grossly for the Chiefs) on Twitter earlier today:
🚨 HYPOTHETICAL TRADE 🚨
Imagine Julio Jones with the Chiefs 😳 pic.twitter.com/hGvJHWnf8z
— PFF (@PFF) May 20, 2021
That evaluation would seem fair to me for both sides. Ultimately the Chargers would trade three picks for Jones and another pick. Then they’d have to pay him approximately $38 million over the next three years. That sounds MIGHTY tempting to me. There are two other things the Chargers would need to consider here, the first is obviously that Jones is an aging player coming off an injury-plagued season. We’ve seen other wide receivers of his caliber bounce back from down years and continue to play at a very high level into their mid 30’s so it’s not out of the question. From ages 32 to age 34 Larry Fitzgerald averaged 108 catches, 1,131 yards, and seven touchdowns per season.
However, we also saw Randy Moss fall off a cliff after he turned 33 and play for four teams in his final two seasons. IF the injuries from last season do carry over, then obviously this deal would be a tough pill for the Chargers to swallow. It’s a risk, but for all the talk of him being injury-prone going around on social media today, he has played in at least 13 games in eight of his ten NFL seasons.
The second thing is the current state of their wide receiver room. They’re paying Mike Williams $15 million this year while he plays on his fifth-year option. If they traded for Jones, the Chargers would be investing around $45 million for Williams, Jones and Keenan Allen combined. Williams is already the most expensive number two in the league and paying $15 million for your team’s third-best receiver would be poor roster construction, even if it’s just for the one season.
Trading for Jones means that Williams becomes expendable in both the short and long term for the Chargers. They could trade him before the season, and to be honest, that is probably how things would go down anyway. Playing third fiddle behind Allen and Jones would tank his long-term value for another team, so I would imagine he would request a trade.
I have a hard time thinking anyone would trade more than a fourth-round pick for a player who has essentially missed half of the games so far in his career and only has one 1,000 yard season to his name. The Falcons literally cannot absorb any other players in a deal for Jones, they can’t even sign Kyle Pitts right now because they are so cap-stricken. This means the Chargers would have to find a different team to take on Williams’ services. They would also still have to take on a portion of his 2021 salary even after trading for him.
The Chargers have also spent three picks on wide receivers over the last two drafts in Josh Palmer, Joe Reed, and KJ Hill. They also saw Jalen Guyton and Tyron Johnson emerge in a big way last season. None of those players should deter the Chargers from trading a player like Jones, but in an ideal world, you would like to see these players return some value to them.
Ultimately, I can see both sides of this coin. Jones is arguably one of the ten best wide receivers in NFL history. Pairing him with Allen and Justin Herbert is extremely tempting. Getting him on a relatively cost-controlled deal for the next three years would be a bargain for them, even if they’re not getting the A+ version of himself. They don’t need to get prime Jones for the deal to be worth it. He did set a career-high in yards per target (11.3) last season despite all the injuries so he clearly still has a lot left in the tank in my opinion.
On the other hand, can the Chargers really afford to trade what are likely two top 100 picks next year when they have question marks at edge rusher, right tackle, and safety? Are they officially in their Super Bowl window? Or are they still a year away?
Trading for Jones is the big “push all your chips in” kind of move that the Chargers have rarely made. The smart money says that Telesco and company won’t do it. It’s a risky move and Telesco generally does his best to mitigate risk at all times. Who knows though, maybe he is feeling some pressure to win right away – especially on the heels of a perceived great draft.
I’m of the belief that any time you can get your hands on an elite player, you do it and don’t think twice. Imagine the possibilities of Herbert throwing to a wide receiver room led by Allen, and Jones, and also featuring Palmer, Guyton, and Johnson. Not to mention Austin Ekeler out of the backfield and Jared Cook at tight end. Even with the lack of depth on defense, I think that would vault the Chargers into a surefire playoff team and maybe more.