June 20, 2021

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Julio Jones trade, NFL power rankings, Aaron…

11 min read
Julio Jones trade, NFL power rankings, Aaron...


If the Atlanta Falcons make Julio Jones a memory, contenders should be burning the phone lines to make a deal happen.

Julio Jones is out of Atlanta, or so he says. If the Falcons make good on that proclamation, 31 teams should be making a call.

Of them, the top contenders should be making the strongest pushes.

Jones, 32, isn’t one of the best receivers in the game. He’s one of the best ever. A former 2011 first-round pick out of Alabama, Jones has racked up seven 1,150-yard seasons with seven Pro Bowl berths. He has made two First-Team All-Pro teams and earned a spot on the Pro Football Hall of Fame 2010s All-Decade Team. If he retired today, he’s going into Canton.

With three years remaining on a very palatable contract, Jones represents an absurd upgrade for any team’s offense. And while it may be foolish for a rebuilding club to part with premium draft capital, it would be equally foolish for a contender not to.

Atlanta may want a first-round pick, but it may end up settling for a Day 2 choice. A Super Bowl hopeful landing Jones for that price should be delirious, even if he’s coming off an injury-shortened  2020 season where he played in nine games (and still posted 771 receiving yards). Even if the cost ends up something like second and fifth-round choices, that’s not worth the his considerable upside?

For the team acquiring Jones, his cap hits would be $15.3 million this year, followed by $11.5 million in 2022 and ’23 respectively. For context, Curtis Samuel is receiving $11.5 million annually on his new deal with the Washington Football Team. While Samuel is a dynamic young talent, he’s no Jones.

So who makes the most sense? The reports have linked Jones to the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans, a pair of AFC teams in the conference’s middle tier. New England has $16.4 million in cap space (and could rack up more by moving cornerback Stephon Gilmore) while Tennessee lacks with $3.3 million.

However, a few others who make ample sense in California: the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers.

San Francisco and Los Angeles both have the cap space at $17.6 and $19.8 million respectively. Each has a need for a top-tier receiver, as the 49ers could pair Jones with youngsters Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, alongside star tight end George Kittle. The Chargers would have a formidable trio of weapons for second-year quarterback Justin Herbert in Jones, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams on the perimeter.

Then there are the longshots. Would the Green Bay Packers try to move money and make it work to help placate Aaron Rodgers? Would the Buffalo Bills create space to make a power move against the Kansas City Chiefs? Do the Indianapolis Colts give Carson Wentz an elite target with their flush wallet? The scenarios are many.

For a contender, Jones could be the final piece. If the price is a draft pick or two outside the first round, it’s a price worth paying.

Power rankings

Top 10 teams that need a uniform makeover

1. Tennessee Titans (the logo works, nothing else does)
2. Philadelphia Eagles (go back to the Kelly Green, ditch the dark tones)
3. New England Patriots (for the love of God, bring us Pat Patriot)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (go back to the originals)
5. Atlanta Falcons (also, Atlanta … the originals. Red helmets)
6. Arizona Cardinals (too much going on, the pants are unfortunate)
7. Los Angeles Rams (trying way too hard. Just go with the ’80s look)
8. Miami Dolphins (again, the ’80s. Those Killer B’s looked good)
9. Seattle Seahawks (so much blue, the silver helmets would save the uniform)
10. Denver Broncos (these aren’t bad, but the ’70s looks was infinitely better)

Quotable

“I’m going to be juiced up going into that week, or whatever, but as far as once that game gets going, I’m going to be cool, calm, and collected because that’s when I’m at my best. Like I said, I’m looking forward to that Week 2 matchup.”

– Minnesota Vikings corner Patrick Peterson on facing his old team, the Cardinals 

Peterson is one of many stars getting a chance at revenge against a former team this season. While the headliner is Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visiting the Patriots in Week 4, we shouldn’t forget about Peterson. In 10 seasons with the Cardinals, Peterson was an eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time First-Team All-Pro.

Podcast

Random stat

The Houston Texans are the only team to never reach a conference championship game.

Info learned this week

1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers continue dance though OTA absence

Last week, the Packers held their first OTAs of spring. Aaron Rodgers was in Hawaii instead.

Rodgers chose to forgo his $500,000 bonus by not appearing at the voluntary workouts. Does it make a statement? Yes, the MVP is letting Green Bay know he’s serious about his simmering discontent. Should the Packers be worried? No, because ultimately they hold the cards, and the power struggle doesn’t truly begin until mandatory minicamp and more so, training camp.

As we approach June 1 and the changing financial landscape that comes with it, we’ll invariably hear more smoke from sources trying to distort the picture. It’ll create headlines, but what else?

Bottom line: Green Bay continues to determine Rodgers’ fate. Without an owner — the Packers are owned by shareholders — there isn’t pressure on team president Mark Murphy from on high. Murphy, a former NFL defensive back, is a football man. He doesn’t care about public relations. Neither does general manager Brian Gutekunst. They’ll make the best football decision available to them, and for Rodgers, that could spell a long summer.

2. Lions taking big chance by moving Sewell to right side

After a dominant career at the University of Oregon, Penei Sewell is now changing everything.

When the Detroit Lions selected him No. 7 overall, many inside the organization were giddy at landing what they believe is a steal. While Sewell may prove one, he’s also being asked to flip from left to right tackle in an effort to keep left tackle Taylor Decker in place, but the move alters all his hand and footwork.

“It is not that easy,” Sewell said during OTAs per the Detroit Free Press. “Man, it’s a whole different feel. Again, it’s like, let’s say I’m right-handed so I’ve been writing right-handed my whole life, and then one day you’re just asked to write your full name left-handed at full speed, the same speed that you write with your right hand. So yeah, it’s a little bit of an adjustment.”

Although it’s a common refrain to hear changing sides of the line isn’t a big deal, scores of players within the NFL feel otherwise. It’s a subject ex-NFL guard — and former Stacking The Box podcast analyst — Geoff Schwartz tackled many times on the show, detailing the time and work needed to make the switch.

Last year, we saw Mike Remmers go from playing right tackle competently all year for the Chiefs to being overwhelmed on the left side in Super Bowl LV.

Now, Sewell is being given an entire offseason to adjust, but it’s still a gamble to move your new prized possession to a different position.

3. Debate over Fields already beginning in Chicago

When should the Chicago Bears give Justin Fields control? Depends who you ask.

Fields enters as a much-ballyhooed rookie after Chicago traded up to take him 11th-overall. The Bears are currently in line to start veteran Andy Dalton, but with head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace fighting for their jobs this season, the best should start immediately. If Fields goes to camp and is clearly superior or has even talent to Dalton, hand him the keys.

Over the weekend, former Bears quarterback Jay Cutler went on ESPN radio and said Fiields shouldn’t start immediately as Dalton is “more than serviceable.” If Fields isn’t ready, fine, but why put a limit on the kid? Chicago hasn’t had a franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman in the 1940s.

If Fields looks the part, let him play the role.

4. Opening training camp date set, uniform for all 32 teams

Usually, we get a slow drip of teams coming into training camp when late July arrives. Not this time.

Last week, the league announced all 32 clubs will be at camp by July 27, the first time we’ve ever had all teams coming in simultaneously. Notably, the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers are permitted an extra week if they’d like as they play in the Hall of Fame Game, but it’s not being mandated.

Personally, I like it. Let’s not pretend there was anything wrong with the old way, but it almost has an opening day quality to it.

5. Remembrance of NFL heroes (and all others) on Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day! While it’s great to fire up the grill, grab a cold one and enjoy a Monday without work, don’t forget the reason for the time off.

The NFL has had many notable veterans who went to and returned from war, ranging from Eagles linebacker/center Chuck Bednarik and Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach to current Baltimore Ravens right tackle Alejandro Villanueva and Pittsburgh Steelers Steelers running back Rocky Bleier. There were also many who didn’t return, including Cardinals safety Pat Tillman and the only American Football League player to die in combat, Bills offensive lineman Bob Kalsu, who perished in Vietnam.

Have a great holiday, and stop to remember those who made our great country possible with their bravery. If you’re someone who served, thank you, and God bless.

Two cents

MLB should take a lesson from the NFL.

In the 1970s, scoring was being choked out of football. Defenses were too good, the passing game was high-risk with corners allowed to mug receivers, and the special teams had largely been relegated to touchbacks with kickers improving annually.

The league made a number of sweeping changes, forever altering football for the better.

In 1974, holding penalties were reduced from 15 to 10 yards. Kickoffs were also brought back five yards to the 35-yard line, opening up more opportunity. Also, overtime was introduced.

Four years later, the big game-changer. Defenders were no longer allowed to touch receivers more than five yards downfield, allowing for more precision passing and clean routes. Known as the Mel Blount Rule (named after the great Steelers cornerback), the change created an explosion of passing yards.

Purists may have hated the aerial NFL in the moment, but it gave the game a rebirth. Today, no North American sport enjoys a wider gap in popularity comparatively to its second-place competitor.

If baseball is going to avoid becoming a fringe sport in 25 years, it must change. Eliminate the shift, move the mound back and install a pitch clock. Purists will hate it, but the good of the game rides on making a seismic shift.

Just ask the NFL.

Inside the league

Tyrann Mathieu is one of the league’s best players. He’s also ripe for an extension. Despite recent talking points, one this summer is a reasonable expectation.

The Kansas City Chiefs have a long history of taking care of their own under general manager Brett Veach. Last offseason, they extended quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce and defensive tackle Chris Jones within a two-week span. They’ve also given out lucrative deals to receiver Tyreek Hill, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and others in recent years.

Mathieu, 29, certainly falls into the aforementioned category of Kansas City star who deserves a raise.

Entering the final campaign of a three-year, $42 million deal, Mathieu has been exceptional. In his two years with the Chiefs, he’s twice been named a First-Team All-Pro, reached the Super Bowl twice as a team captain and won it once. Last year, he was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame 2010s All-Decade Team. He’s one of the game’s brightest stars in his prime.

Additionally, the Chiefs trade for left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. also complicates matters. FanSided previously reported Kansas City is content to let Brown play out the final year of his deal, with the idea of eventually signing him long term should his play be as expected. However, having Mathieu and Brown as looming unrestricted free agents is dangerous. If Mathieu is signed to an extension, Brown can be given a potential franchise tag, and the Chiefs are saved from a headache.

Inside Kansas City’s organization, there’s profound respect for both the player and person Mathieu is. And while that doesn’t always translate to big paydays, the Chiefs recent history, and fondness for the player, suggest he’ll be paid sooner rather than later.

History lesson

For the younger fans out there, the NFL wasn’t always comprised of neat, even divisions. In fact, for a few years, the league had a division with six teams.

Yes, from 1999-2001, the AFC Central had a half-dozen squads.

Entering the ’94 season, the division was actually, along with the NFC West, the NFL’s smallest at four teams which included the Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Houston Oilers and Cincinnati Bengals. However, in ’95, the Jaguars entered the fold, bringing the number to five. The following year, the Browns relocated and became the Ravens, but the division remained the same size.

Then, in ’99, the Browns returned as an expansion team, and the AFC Central swelled to six teams. Since divisions were created out of conferences in 1967, none had ever been so large.

In 2002, realignment gave us the current look, with the Steelers, Ravens, Bengals and Browns staying in the renamed AFC North.

Parting shot

Time for New York to step up.

The Giants and Jets have been nothing short of rancid for the past nine years, with a combined one playoff trip and zero postseason wins.

This offseason, Gang Green made sweeping changes. Robert Saleh was brought in to replace Adam Gase as head coach, Zach Wilson is his shiny new quarterback, and free agency saw receiver Corey Davis and edge rusher Carl Lawson come aboard. Nobody is planning a ticker tape parade for the Jets, but they should expect to be far more competitive.

Meanwhile, the Giants are at an inflection point. Quarterback Daniel Jones is entering his third season. He’s surrounded by a terrific cast of weapons including running back Saquon Barkley, receivers Sterling Shepard, Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney, and tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Evan Engram. If Jones is bad once more, it’s time for Big Blue to move on without him.

While more should be expected from the Giants than the Jets this year, both should take significant steps. In New York, a city starved for a football winner, the airwaves and headlines are waiting to be claimed.

Julio Jones trade, NFL power rankings, Aaron Rodgers and more