Close friends and former Atlanta Falcons teammates Julio Jones and Roddy White have spent plenty of time together this offseason, including a recent trek to Los Angeles and multiple visits to the Caribbean.
During those trips, White insisted neither discussed Jones’ contract situation that is tied to his absence from the Falcons’ offseason workouts. “Two rich people don’t talk about money,” White said with a laugh.
At the same time, White understands there is a reason for Jones to be a bit perplexed about his contract situation despite having three years and almost $35 million left on his deal.
A quick glance around the league shows seven receivers who average more than Jones’ $14.25 million per year, led by Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown at $17 million per year. When Jones signed a five-year, $71.25 million contract extension in August 2015, he received $47 million guaranteed — the same amount of guaranteed money Jarvis Landry secured after being traded to Cleveland from Miami. Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans tops all receivers with $55 million guaranteed as part of a five-year, $82.5 million extension he signed in March. Jones is set to make $10.5 million in 2018, 12th most among all receivers.
Naturally, the market value increases as the salary cap increases. But on paper, White firmly believes Jones has a valid argument for a revised contract and raise.
“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.”
White, the Falcons’ all-time leading receiver who went through a contract saga with the team, has mentored Jones over the years and is willing to serve as an adviser now — if needed. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he expected Jones to be present when the Falcons held their three-day mandatory minicamp Tuesday through Thursday. Players who skip mandatory minicamp are subject to maximum fines of $14,070 the first day, $28,140 the second day, and $42,215 the third day.
Jones, who has never had a reputation of being a malcontent, recently told TMZ there was no bad blood between himself and the team. The Falcons typically don’t address contract situations until a player is in the final year of the deal, but they seem willing to work with Jones if it becomes a bigger issue. No contract demands have been made public, but the team is well aware the five-time Pro Bowler has a raised eyebrow regarding other wide receiver contracts around the league.
“For your best player, how far as you willing to go?” White said. “Do you want him to be happy or do you want him there looking around the league saying, ‘I can’t believe every week I have to go out and do this and this guy is over here making $17 million per year, and he ain’t do nothing I have to go out there and do.'”
The Falcons recently rewarded quarterback Matt Ryan with a five-year contract extension worth $30 million per year with $100 million guaranteed. General manager Thomas Dimitroff said left tackle Jake Matthews and nose tackle Grady Jarrett are next in line for extensions. The Falcons have $7,238,018 in cap space, according to the latest NFLPA numbers.
Former Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian, now an analyst for ESPN, offered the view of Jones’ situation from a team perspective regarding revisiting a contract with multiple years left.
“It happens,” Polian said. “The first thing you do is you determine if you have an in-house policy that covers it. Sometimes, clubs do that: They say they’re willing to negotiate during ‘X’ window. That’s not something that would necessarily be public. I’m sure the owner would set that policy, so you’d be working within that framework to begin with.
“Beyond that, you go through all the considerations that are involved. The players and his people are looking out for his interest [and] you have to look out for the team’s interest: salary cap, cash concerns, longevity issues, injury issues, etc. … All that you factor in before you ever decide whether or not you’re going to go forward. What little I’ve seen from [Arthur] Blank, they’re doing exactly that.”
Blank told reporter Alex Glaze of 11Alive in Atlanta that he expected Jones to be a Falcon forever, without getting into the specifics of the contract situation.
If Jones turns to White on how to proceed with any contract concerns, White will relay his own experiences. He held out of training camp in 2009 and was fined $15,888 per day before signing a six-year, $50 million deal that included $18 million guaranteed. White was entering the final year of his rookie deal.
“You obviously know how I feel about getting paid and what I wanted to do to get my money,” White said. “I always tell people, ‘You have to have a plan.’ I wouldn’t just tell him something. It’s, ‘What’s the plan?’ When I sat down with my agents and everybody, we had to set up a plan and understand how ugly this thing could get. Nobody really knows until it’s really that time.
“Are you willing to miss games? Are you willing to miss the season? Are you willing to get fined all that money? All you willing to play for somebody else if it goes that way? It’s so many things that you have to put into perspective. Before you get that point, you’ve got to have a plan. If it goes there, then you have to be willing to accept everything that comes with it and be in the right state of mind.”
The Falcons have expressed little concern about Jones missing the voluntary part of the offseason program — including OTAs — despite the repeated emphasis on Jones being healthy enough this offseason to work on timing with Ryan. Jones is seeking his fifth consecutive season with 1,400-plus receiving yards and certainly would like to post more than the three touchdown receptions he had last season.
The team also had no issue with the absent Jones attending a recent charity kickball event hosted by Carolina quarterback Cam Newton in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“[OTAs] are all voluntary, so nothing really matters,” White said. “I missed so many OTAs when I was there. I don’t think that really matters when you’ve played eight years with a quarterback. You know what I’m saying? That chemistry is already where it needs to be.”
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