This time, the longshot bet that the Seahawks would pull off a blockbuster summer trade didn’t pay.
After rumors heated up a week ago that the Seahawks were having “discussions’’ about acquiring seven-time Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones, he was traded Sunday morning from Atlanta to Tennessee.
What Atlanta got didn’t seem to be all that much — the Falcons also sent a 2023 sixth-round draft choice to the Titans while getting in return a 2022 second-rounder and a 2023 fourth-rounder.
The Seahawks could have done that — while they don’t have a first-rounder next year due to the Jamal Adams trade, they do have all of their others.
But here is the key part: The Titans are taking on all of Jones’ $15.3 million guaranteed salary for 2021 as well as the final two years of his contract (non-guaranteed salaries of $11.5 million in 2022 and 2023 as well as a $2 million dead cap hit in 2022).
The buzz had been that if the Seahawks were going to pull off a trade for Jones they would have wanted Atlanta to take on some of the 2021 salary, as they had been able to get the Houston Texans to do in 2019 when trading for Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans agreed to pay $7 million of Clowney’s $15 million salary in 2019.
But this was a straight salary dump for Atlanta, which is so cap-strapped that the Falcons haven’t even signed their draft choices yet. And the Falcons taking on much of Jones’ deal obviously would have negated much of the reason for the trade (because the trade was made after June 1, the Falcons have to take on just $7.75 million in dead cap instead of more than $23 million).
With a $15.3 million cap hit in 2021, Jones would have been the third-highest-paid Seahawk after Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner, and the Seahawks would have had to do some maneuvering to fit him in. The Seahawks have just $7.2 million in cap space left in 2021.
The Seahawks could have created some cap space by restricting the contracts of Wilson and/or Wagner and pushing back some of their cap hits into future seasons. They obviously would not have been able to do that with Jones because there was an offer from Tennessee that didn’t require that to get a trade done.
But the Seahawks generally have resisted such “kicking-the-can-down-the-road’’ approaches to salary-cap management. And that Jones is 32 and coming off a season in which injuries limited him to nine games undoubtedly played in their decision to not pursue this one too aggressively.
While the ESPN report made it sound as if the Seahawks were avidly going after Jones, it appears this was more a case of the Seahawks doing their usual “due diligence’’ and getting in on every deal they can.
That was what the Seahawks did the past two years with Adams and Clowney. Each of those pursuits lasted essentially all summer before they were able to pull them off. The Seahawks got Adams by giving up two first-round draft choices. And Clowney effectively could veto any trade by simply not signing his franchise tender. He couldn’t be traded unless under contract. Miami is thought to have offered more than the Seahawks did for Clowney, but he didn’t want to go to the Dolphins, especially once Seattle agreed not to place another franchise tag on him. That allowed him to become a free agent after the 2019 season. The Seahawks didn’t have a similar hole card this time.
The Seahawks were willing to give up as much as it did for Adams because the contract they were taking on was not prohibitive. Adams made just $3.5 million last year and is due to make $9.8 million this year on the final season of his rookie deal. The Seahawks, though, will try to give him a new deal before the 2021 season that could bring down that cap hit while giving Adams a lot more money in the long run.
That Adams was only 24 at the time also meant the Seahawks viewed him as a long-term fixture on defense.
But who knows how much more time Jones has left, especially at an elite level. That’s always what’s easy to overlook in these things, that you’re not trading (or paying for) the player he has been but what he will be moving forward.
And Jones’ age and recent injury history obviously make it hard to predict what he’ll produce in 2021 and beyond.
It also can be debated how much of an issue the Seahawks’ receiving corps is. The attraction of getting Jones was to add him to the dynamic duo of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf and create what on paper had the potential to be maybe the best trio in the NFL, and team history.
But that, of course, assumes Jones will continue to play at a high level, and that the Seahawks could also find ways to integrate him smoothly into the offense after coach Pete Carroll said he hopes his team will run it more and run it better in 2021.
The Seahawks also spent their highest 2021 draft choice on a receiver, using the 58th overall selection on D’Wayne Eskridge. It’s the second-highest pick they have used on a receiver in the Carroll era after Paul Richardson in 2014, who was taken at No. 45.
The Seahawks also signed tight end Gerald Everett to a one-year deal worth up to $6 million (it’s technically a two-year contract, but it voids after this year for cap purposes) with the expectation he’ll be a major part of the passing game.
It also was telling that Carroll said last week, when asked about re-signing linebacker K.J. Wright, that the Seahawks are “committed’’ to their current roster and that he didn’t anticipate any significant moves being made until training camp and the organization was able to see how the team it has assembled is coming together.
The Seahawks won’t have to wait long to see what they missed out on with Jones as the Titans comes to Lumen Field for the second game of the season, and the Seahawks’ home opener, Sept. 19.
And hovering over it all is the specter of Wilson’s future.
The ESPN report mentioned Wilson had talked to Jones about joining the Seahawks, with some wondering if that wasn’t Wilson’s camp putting some more pressure to try to add another big weapon to the offense.
But one reason the Seahawks have somewhat limited cap space is that Wilson has the second-highest cap hit of any player in the NFL this year at $32 million, behind only the $37 million of Aaron Rodgers.
Wilson understandably wants as much help as he can get, but at that price, the Seahawks are right to think Wilson should be able to help himself — and them — quite a bit, as well.