Everyone and their mother is talking about the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan and the No. 3 overall pick. I’ve done so like six different times now. While their pick is interesting in terms of who they draft, we all know what they’ll draft — a quarterback. Things get very interesting with the next pick, however, as the in-flux Atlanta Falcons will have to make a decision that will largely impact the direction that the franchise is heading.
Apparently, Julio Jones might be available via trade. Yes, that Julio Jones. The same Julio Jones that has the highest average receiving yards per game in NFL history at 95.5 yards. Calvin Johnson is second at 86.1. For the Falcons, who are not in a position to contend, I think it’s time. Jones has struggled with nagging injuries the last few years, but has looked like his dominant self when on the field. It’s time to move Jones, one of the best receivers of all time, and give him a chance to get a ring.
It’s not that easy, though. The Falcons also have to think about their quarterback position, currently occupied by Matt Ryan, which is eating up a lot of cap space. The 35-year-old Ryan essentially can’t be cut, and would be an incredibly expensive backup. He’s a $26.9 million cap hit this year, with that backloaded contract ratcheting all the way up to $48.6 million in 2022, and $43.6 million in 2023 before hitting free agency. Yes, the dead cap does decrease over the next two years, but it’s $65.4 million in 2021 and still $40.5 million in 2022.
That’s a tough financial spot to be in if you’re the Falcons. The team isn’t contending, Julio Jones isn’t getting any younger (32 years old), and your quarterback is expensive.
Here’s what I think the Falcons should do, since it looks like they’re tethered to Ryan for at minimum the next two seasons: I think the Falcons should trade Julio Jones and trade out of the 4th overall pick.
Hear me out before you start with the pitchforks. In today’s NFL, franchises are impatient with quarterbacks. Essentially gone are the days of a quarterback waiting in the wings, learning from the veteran mentor until the time is right for him to assume his role as the heir-apparent. Quarterbacks drafted early are expected to start right away, in large part because of the financial benefit it gives the team. If an NFL organization has a quarterback on a rookie contract, it gives them the financial freedom to surround that player with talent. Putting a rookie on the bench for two to three years before they make their first career start is wasting valuable time on the ticking clock that is a rookie contract.
Let’s look at the last three draft classes, quarterbacks taken in the top-10, and when they got their first NFL start.
Joe Burrow — Week 1, 2020
Tua Tagovailoa — Week 7, 2020
Justin Herbert — Week 2, 2020
Kyler Murray —Week 1, 2019
Daniel Jones — Week 3, 2019
Baker Mayfield — Week 4, 2018
Sam Darnold — Week 1, 2018
Josh Allen — Week 2, 2018
Josh Rosen — Week 4, 2018
Three years in a row, if a quarterback is taken in the top-10 of the NFL Draft, they’re expected to start and take over as the face of the franchise almost immediately. The Falcons aren’t in a position to implement this strategy.
The Falcons are handcuffed to Matt Ryan for at least two years unless they can find a trade partner for the aging passer. If they can’t, moving Julio Jones and trading out of No. 4 overall and accruing a large amount of draft picks to position their rebuild would be the right move.