As has become custom in the NFL, the offseason has had no shortage of stories. But one that’s flown under the radar, at least for fans of the league at large, is the situation between the Atlanta Falcons and star receiver Julio Jones.
The Falcons’ mandatory minicamp begins on Tuesday, and on Monday, Atlanta released a statement from general manager Thomas Dimitroff saying that Jones won’t be there.
‘We have much respect for him’
Jones has stayed away from the Falcons all offseason, but everything before this week has been voluntary. Minicamp is mandatory, and teams can fine players who opt to miss it.
“We have been in contact with Julio and his representation. We will not discuss those conversations publicly except to say we feel they have been productive and constructive,” Dimitroff said. “We understand the concerns and thoughts from their perspective. Although not ideal, Julio informed us today he would not be attending minicamp.
“We have much respect for him and what he means to our team, our city and our fans.”
Per the collective bargaining agreement, Atlanta can fine Jones $84,435 for missing minicamp.
The sixth overall pick in 2011, Jones is a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first- or second-team All-Pro who has totaled 1,400 receiving yards or more in each of the last four years. Jones is just the seventh receiver in NFL history to record four seasons over 1,400 career yards, and only the second to do it in four consecutive seasons; Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison also topped that number every year from 1999-2002.
Julio Jones through his career
Julio Jones through his career
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 14: Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons reacts against the Seattle Seahawks at the Georgia Dome on January 14, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
ATLANTA - AUGUST 30: Wide receiver Julio Jones #8 and defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick #95 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrate victory over the Clemson Tigers at the Georgia Dome on August 30, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia. Alabama defeated Clemson 34-10. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 08: Julio Jones #8 of the Alabama Crimson Tide has a pass broken up by Chris Hawkins #29 of the Louisiana State University Tigers on November 11, 2008 at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Tide defeated the Tigers 27-21 in overtime. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
2 January 2009: Alabama cornerback Julio Jones (8) celebrates as he runs with his team onto the field prior to kickoff of the 75th annual All State Sugar Bowl between the Utah Utes and the Alabama Crimson Tide at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, LA. (Photo by Derick Hingle/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)
ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 05: Julio Jones #8 of the Alabama Crimson Tide against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Georgia Dome on September 5, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Julio Jones #20 of Alabama runs with the ball at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 27: Wide receiver Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons looks on from the sideline during a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on August 27, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Falcons 34-16. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Football: NFL Draft: Atlanta Falcons wide receiver and No 6 overall pick Julio Jones victorious, holding jersey on stage during selection process at Radio City Music Hall.
New York, NY 4/28/2011
CREDIT: David Bergman (Photo by David Bergman /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
(Set Number: X85886 TK1 R1 F838 )
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 15: Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons catches a 29-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Georgia Dome on December 15, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
This is a 2012 photo of Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons NFL football team. This image reflects the Atlanta Falcons active roster as of Tuesday, June 19, 2012 when this image was taken. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 23: Wide receiver Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons looks down at his hand against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on September 23, 2012 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Football: Atlanta Falcons Julio Jones (11) in action, making touchdown catch vs Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.
Landover, MD 10/7/2012
CREDIT: Carlos M. Saavedra (Photo by Carlos M. Saavedra /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
(Set Number: X155600 TK1 R2 F235 )
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 16: Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons pulls in this touchdown reception against the Corey Webster #23 of the New York Giants at Georgia Dome on December 16, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 20: Wide receiver Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons looks on after making a catch in the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on January 20, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
HONOLULU, HI - JANUARY 27: Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons and the NFC is introduced before the 2013 Pro Bowl against the AFC team at Aloha Stadium on January 27, 2013 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
28 July 2014: Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) during training camp at Falcons headquarters in Flowery Branch Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI/Corbis via Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 09: Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons is defended by Johnthan Banks #27 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter of the game at Raymond James Stadium on November 9, 2014 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Cliff McBride/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 26: Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons heads out of the tunnel during the NFL match between Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium on October 26, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 20: Prince Amukamara #20 of the New York Giants attempts to tackle Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons during a game at MetLife Stadium on September 20, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 27: Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons talks with Line judge Sarah Thomas as the Atlanta Falcons take on the Dallas Cowboys in the second half at AT&T Stadium on September 27, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 08: Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons warms up during pregame prior to playing the San Francisco 49ers in an NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 11: Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons looks on from the sidelines against the Washington Redskins at Georgia Dome on August 11, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 14: Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons trys to cath the ball against the Seattle Seahawks at the Georgia Dome on January 14, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Football: NFC Playoffs: Atlanta Falcons Julio Jones (11) during interview with Fox Sports Analyst Terry Bradshaw after winning game vs Green Bay Packers at Georgia Dome. Media.
Atlanta, GA 1/22/2017
CREDIT: David E. Klutho (Photo by David E. Klutho /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
(Set Number: SI700 TK1 )
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 13: Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) heads onto the field during the NFC divisional playoff game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles on January 13, 2018 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia PA. (Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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Is money the issue?
By all accounts, Jones is looking for either a bump in pay or a contract extension, though an extension seems unlikely as he has three years left on his current pact.
Jones and the Falcons agreed to a five-year, $71.26 million contract in 2016 that included a $12 million signing bonus and $47 million guaranteed. He is set to have a base salary of $10.5 million for 2018.
But since signing that deal, several receivers who aren’t as productive as Jones have signed fatter deals. Jones’ annual average is $14.251 million; among those who have deals that average out to more per year are the Chiefs’ Sammy Watkins ($16 million AAV), the Browns’ Jarvis Landry ($15.1 million AAV), and the Bengals’ A.J. Green ($15 million AAV).
Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown is the league’s highest-paid receiver by AAV; his contract pays him $17 million annually.
Jones saying little, as usual
Jones hasn’t been seen much since the 2017 season ended, though he did take part in Cam Newton’s charity kickball event on June 1. Jones declined to speak to media that day.
The 29-year-old has generally been one of the NFL’s quieter superstars, but one of his close friends, former teammate Roddy White, wasn’t afraid to speak up for his friend in a recent interview with ESPN’s Vaughn McClure.
“It’s a tough situation, especially for him because he just signed a deal three years ago,” White said. “But the numbers would tell you he’s way, way, way outplayed being paid the amount of money that they’ve given him.
“A lot of times, you don’t want to rub people the wrong way. On the other hand, when people look at the numbers and start stacking them up against people that are making more money than him, then it verifies that he should be paid a lot more money. Yes, he deserves to be the highest-paid [receiver]. I think he does, based on performance. For me, that’s a no-brainer.”
Whether the Falcons agree enough to alter Jones’ contract remains to be seen.
NFL players who have switched teams this offseason
NFL players who have switched teams this offseason