The final piece to the puzzle was right there in front of them. The last ingredient to getting back to former glory. The key to contending with the AFC’s elite once more. It was there for the taking, and the Patriots refused to take it. Julio Jones, one of the best receivers in the NFL over the last decade, is now a Tennessee Titan. He was traded there on June 6th after 10 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. The 2x All-Pro selection makes the Titans one of the most feared offenses in the NFL.
For a period of time, it seemed like Jones was coming to Foxborough. Hell, in the days leading up to the trade, oddsmakers had New England as the favorites to land him. The move made so much sense for the Patriots, or so we thought. According to multiple sources, the Patriots were never all that serious about making a move for the star wideout.
WHY DID THEY NOT WANT TO MAKE A MOVE FOR JULIO JONES!!??
I understand that what probably killed any interest from the Patriots was Jones’ contract situation. The Falcons wanted whatever team that acquired Julio to take on the entirety of his owed money.
Spoiler alert: Julio is making a LOT of money.
The Titans agreed to Atlanta’s demands and took on his entire deal. They had to restructure QB Ryan Tannehill’s contract in order to make it possible. He has a roughly $15 million cap hit for the 2021 season. That’s a lot for a 32 going on 33-year-old wide receiver who only appeared in 9 games last season due to nagging injuries. It comes at a great cost and a great risk for the Titans. This is what ultimately scared New England away from even entertaining the idea of a deal. I get it, trust me I do. New England doesn’t want to end up like the modern day New Orleans Saints, stuck in cap hell for the foreseeable future. However, if you’re serious about contending, which it appears the Patriots are, then sometimes you have to take those scary risks that can elevate you to the next level. Julio Jones is a guy who can 100% bring you to that next level. The Titans understood that, which is why they took a shot on this trade.
Tennessee was a team in my opinion that was trending in the wrong direction. They now can go toe-to-toe with the Colts for the AFC South crown. If New England had a made a move for Jones, it would have put them in a great position to battle for not just the AFC East crown, but for the AFC itself. I don’t believe it’s crazy to say that grabbing Julio would have made the Patriots a legitimate contender in the conference. That in a nutshell is what makes this so frustrating. That was what they were missing, a bona-fide playmaker at the WR position. Aside from questions at QB, WR is the only other position group on this roster I had questions about. They shored up basically every other hole between FA and the Draft. They did address WR there too, but it only improved on the problem. It certainly did not fix it.
The Patriots’ 2021 receiver corps is definitely better than the 2020 iteration. That’s not saying much though. The 2020 group was arguably the worst in the entire league. The bar was so low it would have been hard to get worse in the offseason at that position. Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne are nice additions that I do like. Both however feel like supporting pieces, not go to weapons. A big time playmaker is what the offense lacked. They could have had it for practically the same price they payed for Mohamed Sanu a few years earlier. Imagine the Patriots war chest if they had pulled the trigger: Julio Jones, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Damien Harris, James White, and Sony Michel and all behind one of the best O-Line units in the game. Even if Cam Newton is a shell of his former self, he could definitely succeed with that kind of supporting cast. It would be hard not to be successful having that arsenal around you. Josh McDaniels’ mouth should have been watering at the idea of that potential offensive group.
Instead, we go into another season depending on N’Keal Harry’s development to produce a stud playmaker at WR. I’m not optimistic to say the least. You need a dynamic playmaker to win. Just look at the top receiver from each of the final four teams from last season. Mike Evans (Tampa), Davante Adams (Green Bay), Stefon Diggs (Buffalo), Tyreek Hill (Kansas City). All four of those guys are some of the best in the game. Julio, even in his elder state, is not too far behind those guys.
In only 9 appearances last year, he had 51 receptions for 771 yards. His 15.1 Y/R (Yards Per Reception), marked his highest total since 2017, and he recored the highest catch percentage of his entire career (75%). He doesn’t have much time left at the top of his position group, but then again he doesn’t have to. You don’t make a move for Julio expecting him to still be around 5 years from now. You make the move to compete in the short term. Based on all the big money moves in the offseason, it felt like New England fell in that category of trying to compete in the short term.
Trading for Julio would have been New England’s “all in” move. After not even sending an offer Atlanta’s way, questions have to be asked regarding how serious are the Pats about winning with this current group? They could have made the financials work if they really wanted to. They had $15 million in cap room anyways. A few restructures here and there could have given them even more wiggle room. I always trust in Bill’s brain, it has rarely failed over the last 20+ years in New England. This is one of those few moments however where I simply have to question his thought process. I really hope I’m wrong here, but I truly believe we missed a golden opportunity. Only time will tell I guess…
(Image via USA Today)
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