After weeks of speculation, it was reported on Sunday morning that Julio Jones would be traded to the Tennessee Titans. In exchange for the veteran wideout, Tennessee will send Atlanta their second-round draft pick in 2022 and fourth round pick in 2023 and receive Jones along with a sixth-round pick in 2023.
The picks given up by Tennessee are peanuts to receive a receiver of Jones caliber, and begs the question, “Why didn’t the 49ers make that deal?” Here’s three reasons why:
1. Atlanta wanted Jones out of the NFC.
Jones is still among the top wide receivers in the NFL when he is healthy. The primary suitors for his services in the NFC were Seattle, Los Angeles and the 49ers. All three of these teams will be battling for superiority in the NFC West and a trip to the Super Bowl. After a down season in 2020, Atlanta is looking for a big rebound under new head coach Arthur Smith that they hope will include a trip back to the playoffs. Handing your opposition a terrific player like Julio Jones would make that challenge much tougher.
2. Trading Jones inside the NFC would cost a first-round draft pick.
As news began to break that Julio Jones wanted out of Atlanta, there were a variety of reports that it would take a first-round pick to get it done. To understand this price tag, you need to go back to reason No. 1. The Falcons knew that this price would likely keep the top NFC teams out of the bidding, wide receivers older than 30 don’t usually fetch first-round picks, and that was fine by Atlanta.
This price took San Francisco out to the bidding since they don’t have another first-round pick until 2024 after giving up their picks in 2022 and 2023 to Miami in the trade up to select Trey Lance.
3. Salary cap constraints.
While the 49ers currently are about $17 million under the salary cap for 2021, that total does not include the rookie contracts that still have to be signed. Once Trey Lance, Trey Sermon and Ambry Thomas sign, their contracts will take up about $8 million, leaving the 49ers with about $9 million in available space. With Jones’ contract set to cost $15.3 million against the salary cap for 2021 the 49ers would have needed to move some money around for other players to make Jones’ salary fit. While Paraag Marathe has proven to be a wizard with the salary cap this offseason, this was another complication that led to Jones not landing with the 49ers.