After losing a few pounds in the offseason, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones believes he is stronger and more explosive.
How much more explosive?
“Now, on go balls, I’ve got another gear,” Jones said Monday.
There could soon be a new contract for the Atlanta star, too. The Falcons are in talks with Jones’ agent, Jimmy Sexton, on a contract extension for Jones, who can become a free agent following the season.
It seems likely that Jones, who earned his second Pro Bowl spot last season, will return in 2016 — either with a new deal or with a franchise tag. This season’s franchise tag was $12.8 million.
Jones would prefer the security of a long-term deal. Two other top NFL receivers, Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant of Dallas, set the bar with new $70 million contracts this year.
Jones is set to earn about $10 million this year, the last season of a four-year deal. He had no update on the talks.
“Like I’ve said, seriously I don’t know where it’s at,” he said. “I don’t know when it’s going to be done. None of that. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m just here, just playing ball.”
Sexton did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
Jones was quarterback Matt Ryan’s favorite target last season. He set career highs with 104 catches and set a franchise record with 1,593 yards receiving and earned his second Pro Bowl spot.
He posted the big numbers in his first season following the 2013 surgery to repair the fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot. He broke the same bone in the foot in 2011.
One year ago, Jones was testing new shoes which protect the foot and also trying to work his way back into top condition. Now he says he feels stronger following a full offseason with no limitations. He said he weighs 224 pounds after losing about 5 pounds.
That’s not a dramatic difference in Jones’ 6-foot-3 frame, but he said he can feel the difference — especially on deep routes.
“I’m more muscular now, faster,” he said. “Also, like now, on go balls, I’ve got another gear. I can keep running for a long distance. My quads and hamstrings are stronger. So I’m in and out of (cuts) quicker.”
Jones is more important than ever after the Falcons cut No. 3 receiver Harry Douglas, who signed with Tennessee.
Roddy White, 34, is still productive, but had ankle and hamstring injuries last season. After playing in every game in his first eight seasons, White missed a combined five games the last two years.
Leonard Hankerson, who signed as a free agent, could help, but he fought two serious injuries in his four seasons with the Washington Redskins. He played in only one game in 2014.
There is no other established deep threat on Atlanta’s roster. Rookie Justin Hardy, a fourth-round pick from East Carolina, shows promise.
There was more pressure on the receivers last year following the retirement of tight end Tony Gonzalez. The Falcons hope newcomer Jacob Tamme can be a reliable short-yardage target for Ryan.
Jones already has raced through the secondary for several long catches in the first week of training camp, making a good first impression with first-year coach Dan Quinn.
“I know he had a terrific offseason just in terms of the way he came back and the explosiveness that he’s showing,” Quinn said. “He’s ready to have a terrific year.”
Quinn said he also is impressed with Jones as a leader, including with rookie receiver Justin Hardy.
“He’s an unbelievably good teammate, not just what you see out on the practice field but in the locker room, in the meeting room,” Quinn said. “He’s one of those rare guys who has the ability to stay focused for a long time. That’s not easy to do.
“His mind is so clear on playing the best he can, it’s really one of the things I love about him as a competitor.”
NOTES: DE Cliff Matthews (ankle) and DT Ricky Heimuli (hip) were held out. OLB Brooks Reed (hip strain) was limited. “It was more precautionary,” Quinn said.