On Sunday, what had been speculated for several weeks came to fruition when the Atlanta Falcons traded star wide receiver Julio Jones outside of the NFC and to the Tennessee Titans.
Although the move directly affects only two of Tampa Bay's games on a yearly basis, there is no doubt that this trade impacts the Buccaneers in more ways than one. Below, you can find AllBucs' three takeaways from the deal and how it influences the Buccaneers in 2021 and beyond.
Out with the old, in with the new
Although you can't expect anyone, particularly a rookie, to live up to the standard that Jones set during his time in Atlanta's offense, first-round pick tight end Kyle Pitts is considered to be the next best thing for the Falcons.
With a new administration calling the shots, Atlanta opted for Pitts with the fourth overall selection in April. With Jones on the roster at the time, alongside Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, and Hayden Hurst on the receiving end of Matt Ryan's passes, the logic of selecting Pitts over trading back to address the team's miserable defense was questioned.
Now, it all makes sense, as Jones reportedly asked for a trade before the draft began.
Pitts was considered a potential Hall of Fame talent by analysts such as NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah during the draft process, and Atlanta is surely adding an X-factor to its offense with his selection. It may take some time for Pitts to reach his full potential - keep in mind, he doesn't turn 21 until October - but his freakish pass-catching abilities displayed at Florida are expected to translate perfectly to the next level.
Tampa Bay will be tasked with covering a tight end unlike any that it has faced in the NFC South in recent memory. Standing at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, Pitts clocked a 4.44-second 40-yard dash and other admirable results at his pro day, showcasing his unique athleticism for a player of his size.
Linebacker Devin White might be Tampa Bay's best bet versus Pitts when the team deploys man coverage against Atlanta, although Pitts has a clear height advantage. Still, White can match up with Pitts' speed and is strong enough to jam Pitts throughout his route releases. So long as he continues to grow comfortable in coverage as seen in the playoffs, White is the likely candidate to line up across from Pitts the majority of the time.
Jones's move to Tennessee removes a headache for the Buccaneers secondary from the division
During his time in the NFC South, Jones posted over 100 receptions against each of his three twice-yearly opponents: The Buccaneers, the New Orleans Saints, and the Carolina Panthers.
Tampa Bay allowed the most receptions from Jones of the three teams, giving up 114 receptions, 1841 yards and 11 touchdowns across 171 targets in 16 games. New Orleans allowed 102 catches for 1615 yards and three touchdowns on 158 targets in 18 matchups, and Carolina gave up 89 receptions for 1527 yards and six scores on 152 passes thrown Jones' way in 16 contests.
It's fair to say the Bucs struggled to contain Jones more than any team in their division, and this trade removes a headache-inducing, twice-annual matchup for Tampa Bay's secondary.
Ridley has proven capable as a No. 1 receiver and Pitts could very well end up becoming a top player at his position, but for now, the matchup between the Buccaneers' defense and Falcons' offense stands in Tampa Bay's favor.
How the trade affects the NFC South
Atlanta wasn't expected to threaten the Buccaneers for the divisional crown this season after hiring a new coach and general manager in the offseason following a 4-12 2020 campaign. With Jones now out of the picture, the Falcons' odds of contending in the NFC South took another hit.
As previously mentioned, Atlanta's defense was a disaster a season ago, finishing 29th in total yards allowed and 19th in scoring. Beyond a handful of one-year contracts and the second-round selection of safety Richie Grant, notably signing cornerback Fabian Moreau, the Falcons didn't significantly address their defense throughout the 2021 offseason.
In order for Atlanta to compete this season, head coach Arthur Smith's offense will need to be firing on all cylinders. Without a two-time First-Team All-Pro in Jones in the fold, odds are the Falcons won't produce at a high level offensively right out of the gate, which could lead to a few games dropped to begin the season until they hit their stride.
The Buccaneers will first face the Falcons in week two, meaning Tampa Bay could take advantage of all the change in Atlanta en route to an early divisional victory in 2021.