Titans Trade For Julio Jones

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The Julio Jones era for the Falcons is finally over. Atlanta dealt him plus a sixth-round selection for Tennessee's second-round pick next year and a fourth-rounder in 2023. The Falcons ate $7.8 million in dead money this year but the rest of Julio's lofty contract is now the Titans' problem. Atlanta was in an impossible situation with their cap, unable to sign their entire rookie class before making at least one difficult decision. That bind gave the rest of the league the upper hand in trade negotiations. The Falcons were reportedly seeking a first-round pick but obviously had no takers, leading to a second-round pick being the centerpiece of this trade.

The move only makes sense from a cap-clearing perspective for Atlanta. After passing on the available quarterbacks with the No. 4 pick, they seemingly pushed all their chips in on Matt Ryan's final peak seasons. Ryan's current contract will expire in three seasons when the veteran passer is 38 years old. Removing Ryan's best weapon when his decline could begin at any moment is a brutal price to pay for poor cap management. He has bounced between good and great over the past five years but even the best arms eventually fade. The Flacons could now find themselves in quarterback limbo for a few years, unable to win enough games to make a deep postseason run but never losing enough to get an elite quarterback prospect.

As a result of the trade, Atlanta is now banking on a historic rookie campaign from Kyle Pitts. While many believe Pitts to be the greatest tight end prospect ever, the track record of rookie seasons from his position is incredibly weak. Since the merger, no tight end has hit 900 receiving yards in their debut season. Until last year, when he was plagued by injuries and played nine games, Jones was on a streak of six seasons that never saw him dip below 1,394 receiving yards. Pitts won't replace Julio on his own but he will see enough volume to make him worth picking inside the top four players at his position in fantasy drafts.

Calvin Ridley is the big winner in this deal. In the seven games that Ridley played without Jones active last year, he was a fantasy fiend. He averaged a 7.1/109.3/.4 receiving line in those contests. Over a full season, that would have been good for the WR2 campaign last year. With Jones out of the picture, Ridley has a strong argument to be taken at the top of the second round in fantasy drafts. Russell Gage gets a boost from the move as well. Gage posted a mini breakout year in 2020. With both Jones and Ridley nursing injuries at various points, Gage racked up 786 yards and opened the year 114 yards in Week 1. Gage is nothing more than a flex option but he now has a much greater role in a pass-heavy offense that drafters should still be targeting.

From the Tennessee side of this trade, things are getting extremely exciting. The Titans were already one of the league's most efficient passing attacks last year. Ryan Tannehill finished the season fifth in yards per pass attempt and third in touchdown rate. The losses of Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith put his efficiency in jeopardy but bringing Julio into the fold is an incredible upgrade. It could also signal a slightly more pass-friendly approach, even if Derick Henry remains the focal point of their offense.

A.J. Brown's hypothetical 200-target season is now nothing more than an offseason fever-dream but this may not hurt him as much as many expect. The Titans lost nearly half of their air yards and target due to several departures in free agency. Their efforts to backfill those roles, up until now, were almost nonexistent. Josh Reynolds was their marquee signing at receiver. Tennessee's offense is going to look very similar to Minnesota's from last year. The Vikings produced two top-10 receivers and an elite running back but that was everyone that mattered for fantasy purposes. Brown, almost nine years younger than his new teammate, will still lead the receiving room in targets and his offense just found a way to become even more efficient. A top-five season is still in the picture.

Jones could play a slightly different role with Tennessee than he did in his final season with the Falcons. His average depth of target has dropped for three consecutive seasons, bottoming out at 11.2 yards last year. The Titans have been aggressive at finding downfield passing attempts under Tannehill and the change in scenery could rejuvenate Julio as a deep threat. He will still take more underneath work that Brown does on a week-to-week basis but his spike weeks, filed by multiple downfield bombs, are going to be massive. Jones deserves consideration as a low-end WR1 but will likely fall into high-upside WR2 territory in most drafts.