NBC Sports

Why 49ers trading for Julio would have been complicated

NBC Sports
Julio Jones

The 49ers were interested in adding seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones.

And the price the Tennessee Titans paid to acquire him from the Atlanta Falcons was not so exorbitant that it would have warranted an immediate hard “no” from the 49ers.

But, ultimately, the cost of draft picks and the salaries Jones is set to receive over the next three seasons were significant enough to prevent coach Kyle Shanahan from reuniting with the receiver he considers the current gold standard at the position.

The Falcons on Sunday announced an agreement to trade Jones and a sixth-round draft pick in 2023 to the Titans for a second-round selection in 2022 and a fourth-rounder in 2023.

The 49ers could have pulled off such a trade, but they already sent selections in the first and third rounds to the Miami Dolphins next year as part of the deal to trade up to No. 3 overall. The 49ers moved up to select North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance.

As the 49ers internally discussed the possibility of a trade for Jones in recent weeks, another scenario was considered. The 49ers felt their $15.3 million commitment to Jones this season would impact the roster in other areas. He is also set to make $11.5 million over the final two years of his contract, and there have been whispers Jones might want a new deal if he has a big season.

Shanahan was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator for two seasons before he landed the 49ers’ job. Shanahan has made no secret of his affinity for Jones.

 

“If there's a Julio Jones available and you have the opportunity to get him, you go get him,” Shanahan said leading up to the 2018 draft. “It's worth it. Whatever the price is, whatever the draft pick is, go get him.”

Only, apparently, in reality, the 49ers deemed the costs of draft capital and actual money was not worth it.

Sure, the 49ers could have moved around some money to fit Jones on the team and keep the roster intact. But the 49ers’ long-term plan is designed to remain cap compliant year-round. They do not want to get in the situation of restructuring contracts and pushing costs to the future.

The 49ers are approximately $18 million under the 2021 salary cap.

They are saving some of that cap space for a new contract for All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner this summer. Defensive end Nick Bosa and receiver Deebo Samuel are eligible for new contracts after the upcoming season.

In addition, the 49ers have 52 players who are scheduled for free agency after the season, including running backs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, guard Laken Tomlinson, defensive lineman D.J. Jones, and defensive backs Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams, Jaquiski Tartt and Tarvarius Moore.

Bringing on Jones’ salary might have forced the 49ers to move on from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and his scheduled $25.5 million pay in salary and bonuses for this season.

And the 49ers do not appear ready to anoint Lance as the starter just yet. The 49ers believe their roster is set up to compete for a championship this season.

And, right now, the belief within the organization is that Garoppolo’s skills as a passer and his experience within the offense give the team its best chance of winning games. That could change, of course, but until Lance proves he’s ready, the 49ers are riding with Garoppolo.

Jones, 32, had an injury-plagued 2020 season. He missed seven games due to a hamstring injury. Still, he caught 51 passes for 771 yards. That snapped a streak of six consecutive seasons in which his lowest output was 1,394 yards (2019).

The acquisition of Jones would have meant a clearly defined top three wide receivers for the 49ers. A combination of Jones, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk -- along with tight end George Kittle -- would have been lethal.

Now, the third receiver along with Samuel and Aiyuk is not even close to being defined.

The 49ers’ No. 3 could be Richie James, Travis Benjamin, Jalen Hurd, Mohamed Sanu or someone else.

RELATED: 49ers' Ryans faces challenges from star NFC West QBs

The 49ers did not extend far enough for Jones, which is understandable. The day is not a complete loss, though. The 49ers have to feel relieved that Jones did not end up within the division with the Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals or to another challenger in the NFC.

 

But one of the more difficult games on their schedule got even more challenging.

After playing the Jones-less Falcons on Dec. 19, they have a quick turnaround with a Thursday game at the Titans and their newest offensive star.

 

 Download and subscribe to the 49ers Talk Podcast