With trade rumors swirling, Julio Jones’ future in Atlanta grows more uncertain by the day. The Falcons released their full 2021 schedule Wednesday night in a series of tweets, none of which made any reference to Jones. Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, Grady Jarrett, A.J. Terrell, Chris Lindstrom and even kicker Younghoe Koo all featured prominently, but Jones, a seven-time Pro Bowler and second among active NFL players in career receiving yards, remained nowhere in sight.
Perhaps Jones’ absence could be chalked up to a simple oversight by the Falcons’ graphic design team, though it’s pretty hard to forget about a future Hall-of-Famer and arguably the most decorated player in franchise history. Predictably, Falcons fans were quick to press the panic button, dismayed that Jones wasn’t pictured in any of the team’s promotional material highlighting their much-anticipated schedule release.
A similar situation arose earlier this offseason when the Seahawks went out of their way not to mention Russell Wilson in a letter to season-ticket-holders, suggesting to some that Wilson’s days in the Coffee Capitol could be numbered. For those monitoring Julio Watch, the day to mark on your calendar is June 1st. After June 1st, Jones’ exorbitant cap hit can be spread out over two seasons, paving the way for a potential trade.
The Falcons, coming off their worst regular-season record since 2013, have seemingly reached a fork in the road. With a new coaching staff in place and little left in the way of continuity, unloading Jones’ massive contract in pursuit of future draft capital (building around young, controllable talent remains the NFL’s preferred roster construction) may be Atlanta’s best and only option. That would be a bitter pill for fans, many of whom see Julio as a god-like figure and the face of the franchise, but after the crushing disappointment of 2020, a change of scenery might be good for all involved.