Update (7/26): Jones has reported to the Falcons after the team agreed to rework his existing deal.
With the news of Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones indeed choosing to hold out, fantasy football owners will have a decision to make when staring him down on draft day.
A few things to consider when assessing any holdout:
1) Which side has the leverage?
2) Which party is more likely to flinch?
3) Follow the money around the league
Possessed by whom? In this case, definitely not Jones. He has three years remaining on his contract, and only $4.8 million in dead money against the team’s cap, meaning the bulk of the guaranteed cash has already been paid.
Translation: Other than being an elite talent, he has no leverage here.
The nature of athletic lifespans works against Jones. He doesn’t have many huge years left in the tank, and both sides know it. Sitting out and not being paid is more detrimental to him than the Falcons organization from a personnel perspective.
Jones removed all of the Falcons affiliation from his social media accounts some time ago and now appears resolute on sitting out.
After spending a first-round pick on Calvin Ridley, Jones’ return to the field isn’t as urgent from Atlanta’s perspective. The younger Alabama product gets first-team reps with Matt Ryan every day Jones sits out of camp, and the reviews of Ridley’s performance in OTAs have been glowing. The addition of Ridley gives Atlanta some cushion if this gets ugly and lasts into the regular season.
Having a strong running game also provides added flexibility to weather the storm, but the biggest loser in Jones sitting out is Jones. Every day of camp will cost him cash, and missing regular-season action will be expensive.
Jones was promised by Atlanta executives they would renegotiate with him after this year, so there is further incentive for him to turn the other cheek and return to the team.
Show him the money?
Jones’ 2015 deal paid him an annual average of $14.3 million, which falls below Mike Evans ($16.5M), Brandin Cooks ($16M), Sammy Watkins ($16M) and Jarvis Landry ($15.1M) and just ahead of Allen Robinson ($14M).
A deeper dive reveals a several intriguing pieces to the puzzle. Using the first three years of all of those contracts, since Jones has that much left on his deal, we get a clearer picture of his relative value.
- Take Evans’ deal … He is 24 years old to Jones’ 29 and will make $55.008 million in real money after three years. His deal is unusually structured with high base salaries that are guaranteed but no signing bonus money. It includes a $10 million roster bonus.
- Cooks, 24, will earn $50.459 million over the first three seasons, with a base salary no more than $8 million (2020) in any of those years. The base figures balloon in ’21 and pay him $39 million over those years he may not see.
- Landry’s deal is essentially a two-year, $34.05 million deal when factoring the potential out in 2020. His dead cap hit falls to $4.5 million from $18.5. Should he see the first three years to their conclusion, Landry will have netted $47.1 million. He is 25 years old.
- Watkins is 25 this season and will also play on what is most likely a two-year pact. The third season (2021) can be voided with the penalty of $7 million in dead cap space and a savings of $14 million. His first two seasons will pay $34 million, and, similarly to how Landry’s deal is configured, the final number of three years is $48 million.
- Robinson’s deal includes slightly more than $10 million in roster bonus money, which is meant to protect the team in case he doesn’t return to form after knee reconstruction. He will garner $41.062 million over his three-year deal.
Jones, should he live out his current contract in its present form, will make $34.426 million in guaranteed over the remaining three season. The first three years of the contract he signed in 2015 pad him $47.01 million, and the full deal would have resulted in $81.44 million in real money entering his possession. In other words, he doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on with his underpaid claims.
The likely outcome is Atlanta appeases him by restructuring the final three years and add a year via extension to prorate some bonus money. That way he gets more cash upfront, and the Falcons get some relief against the cap. They could lower his base salaries to almost nothing and convert it into restructure bonus money. Everyone is happy.
Fantasy football takeaway
It seems like a foregone conclusion that Jones will report at some point before Week 1. Working in his favor, he’s a veteran and has an established rapport with his quarterback. The offense is entering Year 2 in Steve Sarkisian’s system, and Jones has been a good sport through the years. In fact, during his 2015 contract situation, he stated it wasn’t his style to miss time for the sake of more money.
“Whatever they feel like I’m deserving of … I’m just here,” Jones said. “I’m just trying to be the best teammate. I’m just trying to play. My thing is to play ball.”
Times are a changing….
His average draft position of 2:02 in standard, PPR and half-point shouldn’t waver too much in the short term. As the holdout extends, gamers will display a greater level of nervousness and he may slide a few slots. Don’t expect a huge discount on draft day. Gamers in keeper formats may have some leverage to land him slightly cheaper in a trade.
At this point in time, expect Jones to play come Week 1.