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Julio Jones wants an adjustment to his contract. The Atlanta Falcons have told him they won’t give him one.
Jones, apparently, has no intention of folding.
Julio Jones won’t report to camp
On Tuesday morning, both ESPN’s Chris Mortensen and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Jones won’t report to camp with the rest of his teammates on Thursday, resolute in his belief that he deserves a pay raise.
Citing sources, Rapoport tweeted that Jones is “comfortable sitting out the entire time.”
If Jones does that, it will be an expensive decision: the collective bargaining agreement allows teams to fine players $40,000 for every day they don’t report to training camp (veteran players receive a $1,900 per diem for camp).
The 29-year-old Jones already skipped voluntary offseason workouts as well as last month’s mandatory minicamp. The Falcons can fine him for skipping minicamp.
The last Atlanta player to stage a camp sit-out was receiver Roddy White, in 2009.
It was shortly after minicamp that the Falcons told Jones they don’t intend to renegotiate his contract this year, though D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the team would be willing to rework the contract next year.
Is Jones underpaid?
The sixth pick in the 2011 draft, Jones is one of the most productive and electrifying receivers in the NFL. He’s topped 1,400 yards in each of the last four seasons, just the seventh receiver in NFL history to record four seasons over 1,400 yards. He’s only the second to do it in four consecutive seasons; Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison also topped that number every year from 1999-2002.
Jones has totaled 9,054 yards in just seven seasons, which puts him on pace to become the fastest player in league history to hit 10,000 yards; former Lions star Calvin Johnson currently holds that mark, at 115 games, but Jones has played in 95, and with even a subpar season in 2018 he’ll eclipse that.
But things have changed dramatically in terms of receiver’s paychecks since Jones signed his current five-year, $71.2 million extension during training camp in 2015. That pact included $47 million guaranteed, and his base salary for this season is currently set at $10.5 million.
But since signing that deal, several receivers who aren’t as productive as Jones have signed fatter deals. Jones’ annual average is $14.251 million; among those who have deals that average out to more per year are the the Rams’ Brandin Cooks and Chiefs’ Sammy Watkins ($16 million AAV), the Browns’ Jarvis Landry ($15.1 million AAV), and the Bengals’ A.J. Green ($15 million AAV).
Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown is the league’s highest-paid receiver by AAV; his contract pays him $17 million annually.
How much do the Falcons need Jones?
Jones, who did take part in a passing camp with quarterback Matt Ryan and other teammates in California last week, was the Falcons’ top receiver by a wide margin last season. Mohamed Sanu, who was second on the team in catches and receiving yards, is still on the roster, as is tight end Austin Hooper, who had a solid season.
After that, however, Atlanta is fairly inexperienced at the receiver position, though its first-round pick this year was Calvin Ridley, who like Jones was a standout at Alabama.
There’s no knowing at this point how things will turn out between Jones and Falcons brass, whether Jones will cave at some point or whether the team will acquiesce and do something, even as a short-term solution, to get Jones back on the field.
Atlanta will host the Super Bowl this year, and the Falcons are the newest team trying to become the first to play the Super Bowl in their own stadium; could they make it without one of the NFL’s best players?