From the latest betting odds to the biggest rumors, “Julio Jones to the Titans” is the hottest trade buzz around the Falcons wide receiver. Although it makes some sense for Tennessee make the deal with Atlanta, there are more reasons working against it.
Titans young Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Brown — who also wears No. 11 on his jersey because of Jones — took to Instagram to recruit Jones to start opposite him as a co-No. 1 for Ryan Tannehill. Jones also works out with Titans All-Pro running back Derrick Henry, a fellow former Alabama star.
The Titans lost wide receiver Corey Davis (Jets) and tight end Jonnu Smith (Patriots) in free agency, They also moved on from slot wide receiver Adam Humphries (Washington). Those are 192 vacated targets away from Brown. They fit the bill for Jones as winning contenders. They also have a strong connection with Falcons head coach Arthur Smith — their former offensive coordinator.
That makes Jones a no-brainer move for Tennessee, right? Except that a splurge on Jones goes against what’s been a successful philosophy with general manager Jon Robinson.
The Falcons have been seeking a first-round pick in exchange for Jones. A second-round pick might get it done if the market lowers for a 32-year-old coming off a season derailed by a hamstring injury.
But in his six offseasons as GM, Robinson has never given up a first-rounder, only traded up or traded down early. He also has used seven second-rounders. His biggest trades, for Tannehill and running back DeMarco Murray, involved fourth-round picks.
Other than 2020 offensive line disaster Isaiah Wilson at No. 29 overall, this is who Robinson has landed in Round 1: Jack Conklin, Davis, Adoree’ Jackson, Rashaan Evans, Jeffery Simmons. Robinson also hit second-round home runs with Henry in 2016 and Brown in 2019.
The Titans have managed the salary cap well, but this year, once all their draft picks are signed, they will be just about even with the cap with little money left. Jones’ current contract carries a $15.3 million salary for 2021 with a $23 millon cap hit.
Robinson has been more calculated in moves for outside veterans, whether when trading or signing free agents. He looks for worthy reclamation targets who fill specific needs and realized this year that his team wasn’t in a financial position to re-sign either Davis or Smith, despite how much it may have needed them. The Titans did sign Jadeveon Clowney last year, but that was in September with his value faded. He didn’t offer much for $12 million with a lone season in Tennessee cut short by another knee injury.
The Titans are among three teams who ran the ball more than they passed last season. That won’t change with promoted tight ends coach Todd Downing calling the plays. Everything they do offensively revolves around Henry’s mighty power running.
Tannehill has thrived making big plays off play-action in the system. Brown has been the perfect field-stretching target and at 6-0, 227 pounds, he is a fast physical specimen in the mold of Jones (6-3, 220 pounds). Jones’ appeal outside of Atlanta is as a dangerous home-run threat, and Brown already gives Tennessee those skills in a much younger, much healthier version.
The Titans responded to losing Davis and Humphries by signing underrrated former Ram Josh Reynolds and drafting Dez Kirkpatrick in the fourth round. They also plan to give tight end Anthony Firkser an expanded role to pick up a chunk of Smith’s production. No team used more two-wide receiver sets than the Titans last season.
That would all point to Jones being a luxury acquisiton that would cost the Titans key draft captial that they have maximized so well under Robinson. The team won 11 games in 2020 with the right complementary receivers to Brown. Defense is the real obstacle keeping Tennessee from breaking through as AFC champion.
In the short term to make room for Jones, the Titans would need to restructure some of their biggest contracts (Tannehill, Kevin Byard, Taylor Lewan, Rodger Saffold) to create the necessary cap relief. They will also soon need to extend Brown from his rookie contract with a high-end wide receiver, so shying away from creating future cap issues is a smarter play vs. paying two wide receivers big money at the same time.
Some key Titans players want Jones as a teammate. The Titans are appealing to Jones because they are a consistent playoff team with some void at wide receiver. But the reality is, making the move likely doesn’t match the mindset in Tennessee.