Should the Jaguars Swing Big and Pursue Julio Jones in a Trade?
The 2021 NFL offseason isn't much different than most past offseasons. There have been lulls, massive news dumps, and a rumor mill operating with all hands on deck.
The latest hot-button offseason story? The Atlanta Falcons' deteriorating relationship with wide receiver Julio Jones, one of the NFL's top receivers of the past decade and the face of the Falcons since he was drafted in 2011.
The rumors surrounding a potential trade of seven-time Pro Bowler and the NFL's all-time leader in yards per game have been building for weeks, but they came to a head on Monday when Jones gave a short but seething statement on his relationship with the Falcons on 'Undisputed', stating simply that "I'm out of there," when asked about the only NFL team he has ever played for.
With Jones now looking for his way out of Atlanta and into a new offense in 2021, it is likely that all 31 teams that aren't the Falcons are going to do some exploratory discussions. Jones is that elite of a talent, even at this stage of his career.
But does Jones make sense for the Jaguars, who have a rookie quarterback, rookie head coach, and are coming off a 1-15 season? We examine below.
Gauging the scheme/roster fit
In terms of whether the Jaguars could use Julio Jones' skill set in 2021, the answer is a resounding yes. Jones only played in nine games last season due to a hamstring injury, but he was still an effective weapon on one of the NFL's worst teams when healthy.
Jones produced 51 catches for 771 yards (15.1 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. He put up the best catch percentage (75.0%) and yards per target (11.3) totals of his career and finished No. 4 in the NFL in yards per routes run according to Pro Football Focus. The team that trades for him will have to be confident that he can stay healthy, but he is still an elite playmaker.
By comparison, none of the Jaguars' starting three receivers in 2020 recorded a yards per target figure higher than 7.6., with Jones heavily outproducing Keelan Cole, Laviska Shenault, and DJ Chark in terms of yardage and explosive plays despite the trio playing 16, 14, and 13 games last year.
Going from Matt Ryan to rookie No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence would clearly be a bit of a downgrade (even if Lawrence is a truly generational rookie, Ryan can still play as well). But Lawrence is seen as the best quarterback prospect in the last decade for a reason, and his high-ceiling potential and big arm would be a perfect match for Jones' electric skill set.
With that said, the Jaguars do already have a crowded receiver room. Chark is entering the last year of his contract and the Jaguars need to determine whether he is a long-term fixture in the offense, while Shenault still has three cost-controlled years on his rookie deal. Marvin Jones is an uber-productive veteran who is on a relatively cheap two-year deal as well.
The direction of the Jaguars
The Jaguars are fresh off a 1-15 season and shouldn't turn down the chance to add talented players. Jones would be one of the most talented players to wear a Jaguars uniform, even at 32-years-old. Adding Jones to an already-crowded receiver room would make for some awkwardness, but it wouldn't be a bad thing to have four receivers with the ability to be starters.
Ultimately, the Jaguars need to figure out where they are in their rebuild. Do they truly intend to defy the odds and go from 1-15 to contending for the AFC South title. That seems a bit unrealistic, but Urban Meyer also doesn't seem like a coach intent on sitting on his hands.
With that said, the Jaguars drafted and signed free agents like a team who thinks they are in the first year of a multiple-year rebuild. Would they really leverage a first or second-round pick in such a pivotal draft (Meyer's second) in 2022 for an expensive and aging player, which is the type of player they have avoided this offseason?
The Jaguars have the cap space to make a move for Jones' contract (any team trading for him is essentially just on the hook for a one-year deal with options for beyond). But it remains to be seen if the tea would actually be willing to move valuable picks for a 32-year-old receiver if they truly are a few seasons away from playing meaningful football.
As a whole, the Jaguars and Lawrence would benefit in unspeakable ways if Jones was added to the offensive arsenal. He would be a big-play threat for a quarterback who thrived at creating explosive plays. With this said, the Jaguars don't have a huge need at receiver and Jones' timeline doesn't exactly match the trajectory they are currently on.
When you factor in the fact that Jones likely wants to play for a team that is either already contending for postseason spots or one that is already knocking on the door, it is hard to imagine he would love the Jaguars as a fit -- even with Trevor Lawrence on the roster.
Jones would make the Jaguars an immensely better football team in 2021, and likely for a few more seasons down the road. He is still producing at a high level despite his age and recent injuries, still staking a claim to the title as the NFL's best receiver talent.
With that said, there are too many reasons Jones doesn't make sense for the Jaguars. The two sides are just moving on completely different trajectories, even if the Jaguars and Meyer continue to say that they aim to start winning immediately.
Jones would help the Jaguars in a major way, but don't expect for him to trade in his Falcons' red for Jaguars' teal anytime soon.