Not long ago, the thought of the 49ers adding prolific wide receiver Julio Jones would have been enticing, but that’s not the case any longer.
Once again, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan could have a crack at his former No. 1 wide receiver when both were with the Atlanta Falcons, Julio Jones.
Unlike last offseason, when it would have taken the Niners offering up a serious compensation package to trade for the seven-time Pro Bowler, Shanahan and Co. could simply sign him in NFL free agency. San Francisco could stand to add another wide receiver to pair with incumbents like Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, and it’s impossible to overlook the fact Jones’ two first-team All-Pro selections were both when Shanahan was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator.
But that was all in the past. Jones, now 33 years old, is far from that kind of player.
The Tennessee Titans, who ended up trading for Jones (a deal that included sending off a second- and a fourth-round pick to Atlanta), found this out the hard way. Instead of massively bolstering a Titans offense that needed a bona fide receiving weapon to pair with A.J. Brown, Jones’ 2021 campaign was nothing short of disappointing.
Dealing with injuries for much of the year, Jones recorded a career-low 31 catches for 434 yards and a touchdown over just 10 games played.
Tennessee elected to cut its losses, cutting Jones in the process at the start of NFL free agency.
Naturally, as is the case with any big-name free agent, fanbases will justify to themselves why it’s a good idea to go after a superstar, even if he’s no longer of that caliber.
In Jones’ case, however, San Francisco would be better off issuing a simple pass.
Why 49ers should say ‘no’ to signing Julio Jones
Sure, there are a lot of reasons why Jones could be enticing. “Could” is the keyword here.
Jones knows Shanahan’s offense and flourished in it, recording a league-best 1,871 receiving yards in 2015 and then putting up 1,409 the following season. And at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Shanahan would be adding another big-bodied target to help support second-year quarterback Trey Lance.
Aside from Samuel and Aiyuk, the 49ers have question marks at the position entering 2022.
Jones could feasibly solve some of those, yes. But having dealt with multiple injuries in back-to-back years, the Niners would be taking about as big of a risk by signing him as they would by simply exploring other options.
On top of that, should there be a decent market in free agency opening up for Jones, San Francisco can’t exactly get into a bidding war. Already in need of extending Samuel, their top wideout, the 49ers would be wiser to commit whatever financial assets they have to options who can at least stay on the field more consistently.
The only case where it makes sense for 49ers to sign Julio Jones
Applying the “never say never” rule here, it could be feasibly possible for the Niners to target Jones this offseason.
A few things would have to happen, though.
For starters, Jones’ market would have to run dry to the point where few, if any teams are actually interested in signing him to even a modest contract. A bidding war is the last thing the Niners would want here.
Second, Jones would have to understand his own value has diminished significantly since the point when he was considered one of, if not the most prolific wide receiver in the league. It’s possible he continues holding out for a bigger, better deal even if that means waiting until training camp.
Or potentially longer.
If there’s no market for Jones, which doesn’t seem likely, and he’s willing to accept a minimum-type prove-it deal, yes, San Francisco could bite.
But that’s about the only situation in which it makes sense.