Could the Seahawks really make a run at trading for perennial Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones?
They are at least thinking about it, according to a report Sunday morning from Dianna Russini of ESPN.
Russini tweeted Sunday morning that the Seahawks “have had discussions about a possible trade with Atlanta, per sources. In fact, QB Russell Wilson & Julio Jones have spoken to discuss the possibility of playing together.’’
The report is the first to link the Seahawks with Jones, who famously told Shannon Sharpe on FS1’s Undisputed earlier this week that “I’m out of there.’’
The Falcons are said to be asking for a first-round pick for Jones, which would be problematic for Seattle since the Seahawks do not have a first-round pick in 2022, having dealt it as part of the Jamal Adams trade.
That’s one reason Seattle has not been often mentioned in connection with a trade for Jones, who has made seven Pro Bowls and twice been named All-Pro in 10 years with the Falcons.
Interestingly, another report from Russini earlier this week said the Falcons already have an offer of a first-round pick in 2022 for Jones, which for the as noted obvious reason that Seattle does not have a first-round pick in 2022 would seem to rule out the Seahawks.
But Seattle does have all of its other future first-round picks. Would the Seahawks be willing to go a third straight year without a first-round pick and deal its 2023 for Jones?
Anything may be possible with Seattle in full win-now mode. The question might be if Atlanta wants to wait that long to get anything of substance for Jones (unless it’s willing to accept a second-rounder or a package including something similar).
Dealing veterans for Jones doesn’t seem likely since one reason Atlanta wants to trade him is to open up salary-cap space (the Falcons have just $337,851).
Also, the Falcons appear to be in something of a rebuilding mode with a new coach (Arthur Smith) and GM (Terry Fontenot).
More likely, Seattle might try to be like other teams and play the waiting game and get involved if/when the asking price for Jones decreases.
A report from the NFL Network on Sunday stated that appears to be the strategy of a few other teams.
According to the report, the Rams and Titans “have both talked to the Falcons’’ but that nothing is imminent and neither team may be willing to part with a first-rounder for the 32-year-old Jones.
Another report from Pro Football Talk on Sunday stated that “in league circles, the current expectation is that, eventually, the Falcons will send Jones to the Titans for a second-round pick’’ but that the Patriots could also be waiting in the wings to pluck Jones (and showing both how quickly things can change, and how avidly the NFL rumor mill can churn, another report Sunday afternoon stated the Rams are now out of it).
Seattle, of course, could also offer a second-round pick.
But the issue isn’t just what a team gives up for Jones but what it then takes on — his massive contract that runs through the 2023 season.
Jones has $38.326 million in the three years left on his contract including a fully guaranteed salary of $15.3 million in 2021.
One reason Jones trade talk has erupted in recent days is that the thought has been Atlanta would wait until after June 1 to deal him since its cap savings increase markedly at that point. The Falcons will save $15.3 million against the cap in 2021 if he’s dealt after June 1 and $11.5 million the following two years.
One reason Seattle has not really been linked to Jones is that the Seahawks don’t have the cap space to take on even half of his $15.3 million salary for 2021. Seattle has a listed $7.2 million in cap space in 2021 — only 12 teams have less.
And Seattle has one really obvious way it can create the space — restructuring Wilson’s contract to turn most of his $19 million base salary in 2021 into a bonus.
Seattle does not need Wilson’s consent to do that, and such a move could create almost $12 million in cap space for 2021 by spreading out that bonus over the remaining two years on Wilson’s deal.
But that, of course, would increase the cap hits on Wilson’s contract for the 2022 and 2023 seasons by roughly $6 million each — by NFL rules Wilson would have to have a base salary of $1.05 million — to roughly $43 million and $46 million.
And that would make it that much more complicated to trade Wilson down the road should it come to that (and Wilson’s Seattle career is best viewed as a year-to-year thing at this point).
Seattle coach Pete Carroll was asked two weeks ago why the Seahawks had not restructured the contracts of Wilson or Bobby Wagner to create cap space now — redoing Wagner’s deal could open up $6 million this year — and said it had been talked about but that “it just hasn’t been necessary at this point.’’
Indeed, the Seahawks have usually restructured deals (which is not the same as redoing a contract via an extension) only once a move is already in hand that requires some immediate cap space, such as when Wilson’s deal was restructured in 2017 to fit in left tackle Duane Brown at midseason.
But unless Seattle could redo Jones’ deal (and his agent is the famed Jimmy Sexton), the Seahawks would have to do more than just restructuring the deal of either Wilson or Wagner to fit him in. And the bigger picture is that at some point, all that money has to be accounted for. But Seattle has seemed more willing than ever this offseason to take kick-the-can-down-the-road approaches to cap management, such as using voidable years to spread out the cap hits of bonus payments.
There’s also the matter of whether the Seahawks would think a trade and the subsequent cap finagling would be worth it.
Jones is a sure Hall of Famer. But he was limited to nine games last season due to a hamstring injury, and now entering his 11th season it’s fair to wonder if he is on the downside of his career.
Still, he was effective when healthy last year, averaging 85.7 receiving yards per game, seventh in the NFL (and showing how elite he has been, that was his worst mark since 2012).
And adding Jones would give Seattle a trio of receivers that would rank among the best — if not the best — in the NFL, joining Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.
But the question would also be how much Seattle wants to invest in its receiving corps. Seattle gave Lockett an extension earlier this year that means he has cap hits of $16.75M in 2023 and $23.95M in 2024 and 2025. And the Seahawks will have to give Metcalf an extension following the 2021 season (the earliest it can) that would likely top what Lockett got (which was a four-year deal worth up to $69 million).
Seattle also used its top pick in the 2021 draft on a receiver, Dee Eskridge, and a trade for Jones would inevitably relegate him to a lesser role for at least a year or two. Carroll heaped praise on his progress in OTAs on Thursday.
All of which is a long way of saying it may be a longshot that the Seahawks can actually work out something for Jones.
But then, it may have seemed a longshot for Seattle to get Jadeveon Clowney in 2019 and Adams last year and we know how that turned out.