49ers won’t go after Julio Jones via trade, and here’s why
By Peter Panacy
Would the 49ers be better with veteran wide receiver Julio Jones? Yes. But there are multiple reasons why they won’t pursue the Falcons standout.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have never shied away from trying to improve the roster at any point possible.
At any position, too, which is part of the reason why they are making the eventual switch from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the rookie signal-caller, Trey Lance.
That transition will take time. But a would-be transition that would have an immediate impact would be the Niners making a blockbuster offseason trade to acquire Atlanta Falcons seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones, who is reportedly on the trade block amid the Falcons’ current need to restructure and rebuild their squad into 2021 and beyond.
Anytime a superstar player becomes available, he immediately draws attention from any fanbase wondering whether or not he could help out their team.
And in San Francisco’s case, yes. Jones would be an immediate boost to the team’s depth chart at the position, which has plenty of question marks after the two starters, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel.
At the same time, though, don’t expect the 49ers to make any sort of move. Even though Shanahan’s comments on Jones recently suggested some modest interest.
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“Julio Jones, for everybody, especially if you had a chance to coach him, he’s what you’re saying and more,” Shanahan said on The Michael Irvin Podcast (h/t 49ers Webzone). “I mean, the dude is one-of-a-kind. He makes coaching a lot — a lot — easier. That’s why everyone feels the same about Julio. That’s why I don’t worry about saying that. That’s like common knowledge. Everyone knows Julio is on a different level. That’s why he’s a special guy.”
Shanahan, of course, coached Jones in Atlanta between 2015 and 2016 — both of Jones’ first-team All-Pro years.
49ers likely won’t have NFL Draft capital to offer for Jones’ services
At 32 years old, Jones isn’t necessarily pegged to be a long-term investment. And the fact hamstring injuries limited him to just nine games last year suggests his open value on the trade market could be slightly less than it otherwise might have been in previous years.
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
But considering the mass increase of injuries around the league in a COVID-altered season last year, Jones’ overall track record of staying healthy and productive has to be taken into consideration.
The Niners already surrendered their first-round picks — one in 2022 and another in 2023 — along with next year’s compensatory Round 3 selection, to the Miami Dolphins to move up to No. 3 overall in this year’s draft to select Lance.
While no draft pick is equal to the kind of production Jones would offer, even at this stage in his career, San Francisco already has too slim of pickings to suggest Atlanta would be interested in a trade. A second-round pick in 2022 surely wouldn’t get the job done, and packaging a bunch of mid-round picks over the next two years endangers the 49ers’ ability to capitalize on those cheap rookie contracts for key role players and potential starters over the next four to six years.
Julio Jones’ contract likely prevents 49ers from making a move
Minus Jones’ prorated signing bonus, his 2021 base salary is for $15.3 million, per Over the Cap, and the Niners would have to figure out how to work that into their contractual plans this season.
In 2022 and 2023, Jones’ base salary is at $11.513 million per year.
In theory, San Francisco could make a trade for Jones this offseason work, at least financially. The 49ers currently have $17.66 million in cap space but without some of their top prospects, namely Lance, having signed rookie contracts. Perhaps only the top two or three players — Lance, offensive lineman Aaron Banks and running back Trey Sermon — end up counting against the offseason top-51 rule.
But, still, it’ll be tough for the Niners to work in Jones’ numbers without jeopardizing the space needed to manage the rest of the year.
The bigger reason, however, why Jones wouldn’t make sense for San Francisco from a financial standpoint is the impact a trade for him would have on the prospects of extending other key players, such as linebacker Fred Warner and EDGE Nick Bosa. Warner could end up setting a new market for linebackers with an annual contract value of more than $18 million per season, while Bosa could easily command north of $20 million per year.
Warner is already eligible for an extension in 2021, while Bosa’s eligibility kicks off in 2022.
Cap space not spent this year can roll over into next year’s amount, meaning money saved now could ultimately be used to extend Warner and Bosa.
So, if you’re asking yourself which outcome the 49ers would rather have — Jones or the duo of Warner and Bosa — you’re probably picking the latter.
It’s not an exact either-or situation. But it’s pretty close to it.