Five best fits for Julio Jones
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons are trying to distance themselves from all the Julio Jones trade rumors, but new head coach Arthur Smith had to face the music on Tuesday and wasn’t at all comfortable with it.

Speaking to reporters, Smith fumbled a bit as he dealt with his first serious bout of adversity since taking the job, refusing to directly comment on Jones’ situation, per NFL.com’s Jeremy Bergman:

“We have great appreciation and respect for Julio, what he’s done here, and for all the players that have been a part of this Falcons organization. Look, this is a tough business. We all signed up for it, coaches and players, we understand that. But everything we do here is going to be well-thought-out and it’s going to be handled behind the scenes with dignity with the players. As long as I’m here, that’s the way it’ll be done.”

Jones recently said on live TV that he wasn’t coming back to the Falcons, and news has surfaced that he’d requested a trade months ago, hoping to play for a team that’s ready to win. Atlanta is transitioning to a new coaching staff and front office, so despite the presence of quarterback Matt Ryan, lots of work still needs to be done.

Now that it’s a matter of “when” not “if” Jones will be traded, let’s take an updated look at which suitors best fit his desire to win and have the means and ammunition to cut a deal with the Falcons.

5. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts should be doing all they can to ensure that Carson Wentz succeeds. One big reason why this might not work out is because Jones may lack faith that Wentz can be the QB he finishes his career with on a high note.

Wentz was horrendous in 2020 with the Philadelphia Eagles and is a wild card reclamation project at this point. Jones would indubitably step in and be Indianapolis’ No. 1 receiver right away, and Indy has a roster definitely ready to be in the playoffs aside from the uncertainty at quarterback.

General manager Chris Ballard is generally conservative when it comes to making splash moves and likes to build predominantly through the draft. He’s had a lot of success with that. The Wentz trade marked his first big move, and it was a massive risk.

Dealing for Jones to supplement the investment in Wentz is a savvy move that could help vault the Colts over Tennessee this year for AFC South supremacy.

4. San Francisco 49ers

Kyle Shanahan was once the Falcons’ offensive coordinator and had them so close to winning a Super Bowl. He elevated Ryan to an MVP level, and Jones put up monster numbers.

Now the 49ers head coach, Shanahan is such a genius play designer who he can scheme up ways for his best playmakers to get the ball even when coverage is rolling toward them. He’s done that throughout his time climbing the NFL coaching ranks and knows how to get it done with Jones.

San Francisco has a couple of excellent young wideouts in Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Not only would Jones’ mentoring be invaluable, but he’d also create a mutually beneficial dynamic in terms of drawing favorable matchups between himself and the Niners’ dynamic young duo.

The big catch here: The 49ers just traded two future first-round picks to move up for Trey Lance in the 2021 NFL Draft. They’d probably need to part with another first-round selection to land Jones, which may be too steep and too far out to pique Atlanta’s interest.

3. New England Patriots

One area where Bill Belichick notoriously falls short in player evaluation is the wide receiver position.

Apparently, he thought signing the likes of Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne this offseason was enough to solve the Patriots’ perpetual woes at the position, but they’re hardly slam-dunk acquisitions.

Considering that Belichick desperately traded a second-round pick to Atlanta for Mohamed Sanu, you can bet he’d sacrifice a first-rounder and, heck, maybe even star cornerback Stephon Gilmore to get Jones once June rolls around.

The question is how down would Jones be to catch balls from either Cam Newton or Mac Jones?

2. Baltimore Ravens

Finding a viable receiver for Lamar Jackson has proved an elusive task for the Ravens since his tenure began. Landing someone with Jones’ skill set would take a lot of the guesswork out of that equation.

Although Baltimore made a great move in drafting Rashod Bateman in the first round of this year’s draft, it’s a lot to ask of a rookie to be a go-to guy. Not everyone is going to come in and have a Justin Jefferson-like impact.

Putting an established veteran like Jones in a receiver room with the likes of Bateman and speedster Marquise Brown would give Jackson so much more confidence throwing outside the numbers, open up Brown to be more of a pure deep threat and give Bateman plenty of one-on-one chances to succeed.

1. Los Angeles Chargers

Justin Herbert is among the elite young QBs in the league, and by all accounts, he has the football IQ necessary to transition to a new system. After all, he stepped in unexpectedly as a rookie with hardly any offseason to speak of and lit the NFL on fire in 2020.

The Chargers already have a loaded defense and got a new head coach in Brandon Staley who specializes on that side of the ball. Mike Williams is a fine receiver, and rookie Josh Palmer is expected to contribute, yet Jones would be an absolute X-factor who could take Herbert and Los Angeles to another level.

In an AFC West Division that features the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bolts can’t have enough weapons when they square off with the two-time reigning conference champions. Making a bold move for Jones is something L.A. must consider.

This article first appeared on Sportsnaut and was syndicated with permission.

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