Last year it was DeAndre Hopkins. This year it’s Julio Jones. In the span of two seasons, two of the best wide receivers in the NFL were moved for only a second round pick. Hopkins was traded to Arizona for David Johnson, a second round pick, a 2021 fourth round pick; Houston sent a 2020 fourth round selection back to the Cardinals along with Nuk. Jones was traded to Tennessee for a second round selection and a 2023 fourth round selection; the Falcons are sending 2023 sixth round pick to Tennessee to go along with Jones.
Don’t get it twisted. These two trades aren’t similar. Moving an All-Pro wide receiver still in his prime entering his age 28 season for an aged and decrepit running back, to a team that was supposedly trying to get over the hurdle to get into Super Bowl contention, is not the same thing as trading an age 32 wide receiver who played only nine games last year, was surpassed by Calvin Ridley, playing on a team that is in purgatory, and on an offense that can be run with a single great wide receiver. The compensation is similar, but the context the trades were made in is entirely different.
The salary cap is also a greater issue in the Jones trade than it was in the Hopkins trade. Jones is still due $23.25 million in prorated bonus money—by making the trade after June 1st, Atlanta doesn’t don’t have to deal with this lump all at once and can spread the dollars across several seasons. The Titans are taking on a base salary of $15 million this year that is set to drop to $11 million next season. Tennessee will have to restructure existing contracts to make this work in 2021. From the Falcons’ perspective, this trade is all about getting out from under Jones’s contract.
Hopkins only had a salary of $12.5 million in 2020, and his prorated bonus money was only $1.5 million when he was moved. The Texans made a free trade. Houston had the money to pay Hopkins in the future—no matter what Kyle McNair or Bill O’Brien said—but Hopkins was three years away from free agency at the time of the trade and had no leverage to hold out for a new contract. Tossing some guaranteed money to a cornerstone player is just being a good employer. The Texans refused to do that. Not only that, the Texans, not the team acquiring Hopkins, were the ones who took on an atrocious contract to facilitate this trade. Houston took on a $10.2 million contract that was restructured this offseason to get their man, David Johnson. Yes, the Texans looked in the mirror after blowing a 28 point lead in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs nd thought they were a David Johnson and Eric Murray away from being a Super Bowl contender.
Adding Julio Jones turns the Titans from an AFC South contender, a little bit ahead of the Colts, into a true contender. Tennessee gets the Corey Davis replacement they needed in an even grander form. Jones, combined with A.J. Brown, is the best wide receiver pairing in the NFL. Both players are great at running routes that attack every quadrant of the field. Jones and Brown are monsters in the play-action passing game. Each should thrive against single coverage. Ryan Tannehill isn’t in the middle of a hot streak. He’s a legitimate franchise quarterback, and he’s one of the game’s best play action passers. Tennessee’s midzone game with Derrick Henry, in conjunction with Tannehill and these two wideouts, should be a top five offense.
In the AFC South arms race, the Colts got Carson Wentz, the Jaguars got Trevor Lawrence, the Titans got Julio Jones, and the Texans...well, the Texans kept David Johnson and are replacing Deshaun Watson with Tyrod Taylor and third round quarterback Davis Mills.
Go Texans or something, I guess.