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Bill Murphy: Falcons face pressure to resolve Julio Jones' holdout situation
All-Pro receiver staying away from team's mandatory minicamp this week
Atlanta Falcons' Julio Jones in action during the second half of an NFC divisional playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Jan. 13 in Philadelphia. - photo by Associated Press

If rumors are true, Julio Jones wants more money. Who doesn’t?

The Atlanta Falcons’ leading wide receiver is holding out of mandatory minicamp this week, which certainly isn’t a good sign in regard to his relationship with the franchise, despite having three more years remaining on a $71 million deal. Jones hasn’t made any public statements about why he’s staying away from team activities, but his actions speak a thousand words. 

When Jones scrubbed his social media accounts in May of all photos with him wearing Falcons gear, it was a passive-aggressive indicator that he was willing to put up a fight to be more on par going forward with the league’s highest-paid wide receivers — Mike Evans of Tampa Bay ($18.2 million this year) and Larry Fitzgerald of Arizona ($16.85 million).

This season, Jones will be the seventh-highest paid wide receiver ($12.9 million), though he was second in receiving yards in 2017 with 1,444.

Jones knows his value as well as anyone else. However, revising Jones’ contract could certainly open the flood gates of other players who want a new deal with the Falcons. For that, I can’t blame any of them. Football is a violent game where every player is one injury away from potentially no longer being able to play — or walk.

Because players generate of millions in revenue for television networks and make billionaire owners even richer, Jones isn’t totally wrong for expecting more coin — if that is indeed what the sticking point is in this fiasco.

The Atlanta Falcons released a statement Monday with comments from general manager Thomas Dimitroff saying the team’s star receiver would not be on hand for minicamp but that they are on good terms with the five-time Pro Bowler, which is a clear sign that not all is well with The Brotherhood in Flowery Branch.

Hopefully, Jones’ absence in June will be old news when training camp cranks up in late July. It’s best for the Falcons if any issues about guaranteed money are worked out in a timely fashion. Atlanta’s window to win a Super Bowl with its current cast of players, some of whom happen to be elite at their position and command top-tier compensation for their talents, is waning. 

Without Julio Jones going forward, Atlanta can’t win a Super Bowl.

There’s no way to replace a premier receiver on the edge who can totally open up the field for quarterback Matt Ryan. But how much money will Atlanta be willing to spend going forward to make this happen? Would the Falcons be willing to update his contract, knowing the implications could create a huge ripple effect with other players in the locker room wanting more money, too?

The biggest sticking point — if rumors are true — is the fact Jones has only $7 million remaining of the $47 million in his current contract. The soon-to-be 30-year-old All-Pro knows he’s only one hit away from having greatly diminished value, especially when you take into account his history of hip and ankle injuries. 

However, the other side of this escalating situation is that the Falcons’ leadership has only so much money available to hand out. With other mega-deals already in play and other players looking to get paid soon, Atlanta is going to have to make some tough decisions going forward to be in accordance with the current $177.2 million salary cap. 

Starting in 2019, the 33-year-old Ryan is set to make $30 million a year, which will potentially carry him through the remainder of his career. He certainly needs Jones, who topped 9,000 career yards in 2017, to have any chance of earning the franchise’s first Super Bowl title after coming oh-so-close two years ago.

Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, linebacker Vic Beasley and running back Tevin Coleman are all coming in to their fourth and final season of rookie deals. Jarrett and Beasley are speculated to be in line for new deals, but it’s going to come at a heavy price with the top defensive tackles and outside linebackers in the 4-3 scheme in the $12-million-a-season range. 

Coleman is likely on the way out with Devonta Freeman already locked up in a league-best deal at running back, covering five years and $41 million. 

Left tackle Jake Matthews has already had his fifth-year option for $12.5 million picked up. To keep him around as protection on Ryan’s blind side will likely require a deal in the same range. 

Bottom line: Julio Jones knows the Atlanta Falcons make a major dropoff without him fully committed. Now the onus is on Dimitroff and Atlanta owner Arthur Blank to figure out how best to smooth over any bruised egos to keep a fracture from forming in the locker room. 

No Julio, no Super Bowl. 

Bill Murphy is sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at bmurphy@gainesvilletimes.com or @Bill_Murphy313 on Twitter.

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