The price-tag to retain the longtime services of Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones will be upwards of $80 million.
With the draft and rookie minicamp over, the Falcons have shifted their front-office focus to working on a long-term contract for Jones, a two-time Pro Bowler.
“That’s where we’ll continue to focus right now,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said on Saturday. “He’s an important part of making sure that we get things accomplished here in the relatively near future.”
The low-end of the market value for Jones would be $13.5 million per year. At that mark over six years, a new extension could total $81 million. He’s set to make $10.1 million this season and possibly $14 million if he receives the franchise tag in 2016.
“Nobody wants to go year-to-year,” said Joel Corry, CBS Sports’ NFL Business analyst. “But he’s really looking at $24 million over the next two years. Then if they want to franchise him again, assuming the number is 16.8 million, then that’s $41 million over the next three years. That right there kind of gives you a baseline that he’s probably not going to accept anything under $13.5 million if you look at it that way.”
When pressed for a timetable, Dimitroff was vague. However, it’s reasonable to conclude that the Falcons would like to have a deal done before training camp starts in late July from his “relatively near future” remark.
Jones has played four mostly stellar seasons. He did re-injure the fifth metatarsal in his foot in the 2013 season and played in just five games. He came back strong from surgery and turned in a Pro Bowl season in 2014. Dimitroff has said the team is not concerned about Jones injury history.
The Falcons, Cowboys, Broncos and Bengals all have a similar problem in figuring out the market value for their prized wide receivers. Dez Bryant, Demariyus Thomas and A.J. Green are all up for contract extensions.
All could make a claim to join Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson’s $113.45 neighborhood. The first to sign could set the new market.
Jones and Green, who were selected fourth and sixth overall in the 2011 draft, are both set to enter the option year of their rookie contracts. Bryant and Thomas have been slapped with the franchise tag.
If the Falcons can’t iron out a deal with Jones, they could retain him with the franchise tag in 2016 while then buying more time to figure out the market place.
“No one has been able to really figure out what they think the market should be,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told the Dallas Morning News.
The baseline was sent in 2013, when Miami signed wide receiver Mike Wallace to a six year, $60 million deal with $30 million guaranteed.
“None of them will have the forces in play which allowed Calvin to get that deal,” Corry said. “Calvin was like Ndamukong Suh in terms of his cap number being so high because he was an early pick under the old system. They’d restructured it and it was going to be impossible to franchise him. That gave him a lot more leverage than any of these guys will ever have.”
A call to Jones’ agent, Jimmy Sexton, was not immediately returned.
Jones best move may be to let the market settle. That would explain why the Falcons may be in a rush to do a deal in the “near future” before the Cowboys or the Broncos shower Bryant or Thomas with more lucrative deals.
“Whoever does go first is probably going to get the worst deal,” said Corry, an Emory graduate who was formerly an agent. “Whoever goes last may get the best deal out of those four.”
Thomas turned down a deal last season that would have made him the third highest-paid wide receiver in the league.
“Under no circumstance do I see any of these (players) accepting less than that (Wallace) deal,” Corry said. “You can consider that a worst-case scenario for the receivers.”