Big-name, big-bodied, Hall of Fame talents are fun to talk about, especially in the social media, fantasy sports age.
So, Patriot Nation, it was certainly fun to fanaticize about the Falcons shipping the still-capable pass-catcher Julio Jones to New England to upgrade a Patriots corps of receivers that even after free agency is mediocre at best.
We got a couple weeks of chatter out of it. And now that Jones has joined Mike Vrabel’s contending Titans for essentially the relatively low cost of a second-round pick (Tennessee also sent a fourth-round pick while getting a sixth-round selection back), some Patriots fans are still jonesing for Jones.
But despite all the offseason hope, hype and delusions of 2021 contending grandeur, the reality is that Jones probably made little sense for Bill Belichick’s Patriots.
At 32 years old, Jones is past the expiration date for nearly all NFL receivers. Age may just be a number these days in some NFL jobs, but receiver is still a young-man’s game.
Jones is also on the books for $15 million this year and numbers approaching that in each of the next two seasons. Not stupid money, but not nothing.
Though Jones still put up impressive, productive numbers in the nine games he played last season he did battle a hamstring injury.
Could the Patriots have met the Falcons trade requirements or even bettered the deal the Titans made? Sure.
Could have fit him under the salary cap, too. Even while still overpaying Nelson Agholor.
Would Jones have immediately made the Patriots better, stepping into the No. 1 wide receiver spot to make plays and take the pressure not only off fellow receivers but also big-money free agent tight end additions Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, guys who’ve never really put up big numbers or been Da Man in their teams’ offenses? Of course.
But to what end and what cost?
Dreams created by June hot flashes aside, the Patriots aren’t contending for the Super Bowl in 2021. New England needs a lot of things to break right to make the playoffs even with the “uncharacteristically aggressive” free agent spending spree of the spring.
From afar it appears that Belichick and his restructured front office have built a team looking to run the football, play defense, execute on special teams and need its quarterback to simply make occasionally complementary plays not sling it all over the field.
It’s a team looking like it’s built for Cam Newton to try to run and do very little gunning to rehab his career or ease Mac Jones into NFL action as a game manager.
It is not built like a team looking to feed a Hall of Fame wide receiver the kinds of touches that those kinds of outside targets require, whether they go full diva to make that point clear or not.
If Jones were in New England he would have immediately put more pressure on Josh McDaniels to create an environment to not only give the receiver what he wants as a role, but to get return on investment for the trade assets and salary paid to acquire him.
That’s more passing for a team that isn’t ready to be a 30-plus-attempts-per-game attack.
That means more difficult decisions for Newton or Jones. Checking down, which has been the rage in the limited time on the practice field in front of the media for OTAs, isn’t as palatable a plan when a guys like Julio Jones is lined up wide.
Running the ball, James White Screens and All-Pro Jake Bailey live-to-fight-another-day punts aren’t viewed through the same lens if you go all-in on an All-Pro receiver talent like Jones.
Jones makes the Titans better, there is no doubt about that. His arrival in Tennessee probably makes the Patriots chances to reach the postseason more difficult.
Jones will likely love lining up opposite A.J. Brown and in an offense where King Derrick Henry’s 2,000-yard potential has the attention of back end defenders. Mike Vrabel’s team clearly wants to put opposing safeties in a pick-your-poison bind of loading the box or covering your back-end butt. It looks really good on paper.
It’s fun to talk about.
Just like it was fun to talk about the Patriots pursuing Jones and would have been even more fun this summer to talk about New England adding the elite talent to its lackluster, more-questions-than-answers passing game.
But it wasn’t the right fit.
It wasn’t the right time or the right place.
The Patriots aren’t one guy away from contending. They aren’t the landing spot these days for a Super Bowl-hungry aging talent like they were back in the day.
We got some run out of the fun Jones’ talk.
Now it’s back to reality.
Which may not include Jones, but isn’t too bad, either.