Leading up to the draft, I spoke to several sources intimately familiar with how the Patriots do business. To each of them, I expressed skepticism about Bill Belichick drafting a quarterback in the first round.
My logic? The team spent 20 years with a sixth-round pick at the position and he did really well. They used a second-round pick on his successor in 2014 and Jimmy G. is no slouch. Meanwhile, the pelts of so many top-10 quarterbacks hang from Bill Belichick’s belt that he doesn’t have room for any more. The initial cost, the second-contract stress, the care and feeding of your franchise-to-be? Bill would just as soon find somebody in the second or third round.
“You’re wrong,” I was told. “Just because he hasn’t done it doesn’t mean he wouldn’t. He hasn’t needed to because of Brady. But if the right situation unfolds he would do that.”
The right situation unfolded, apparently, because the Patriots spent the 15th overall pick on Mac Jones.
Cool story, bro. Everyone knows that.
Right. But I’m revisiting the tale of Mac Jones in order to explain that the same mindset was present with Julio Jones.
Would the Patriots trade for Julio? Yes, I was told by sources. If the right conditions presented themselves, the team would get in the running for the Falcons' brilliant receiver. Will they? Absent the right conditions, probably not.
And that’s why Julio Jones is a Tennessee Titan, my friends.
The draft-pick compensation Tennessee is sending to Atlanta -- a second-round pick in 2022, a fourth in 2023 -- in exchange for Jones and a sixth-rounder in 2023 is secondary to the Titans' willingness to pick up all of Jones’ 2021 salary.
Jones’ $15.3M salary for 2021 was the stumbling block that kept the market for him kind of tepid. If the Falcons had been willing to swallow some of Jones’ cash in order to make a deal -- like the Panthers did with Teddy Bridgewater earlier this offseason -- then the suitors would have come out of the woodwork and the draft pick compensation might have been higher.
But with Atlanta holding firm on that, everybody except Tennessee was reduced to being a tire-kicking looky-loo.
Today, of course, is for backseat driving. Should the Patriots have been willing to extend themselves for Jones the same way Tennessee did. Draft picks and full freight?
That’s a matter of opinion and the one that will be voiced most loudly will be the dissatisfied one. The Patriots had the room under the cap to pay Jones. He’s not at all the brittle fella he got painted as in the past few weeks. I would be willing to wager he will be one of the 10 best receivers in the NFL through the remainder of his contract. The Patriots still aren’t daunting at wide receiver.
I was more an interested observer because I knew that after buying the services of pass-catchers Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith and Nelson Agholor and guaranteeing them more than $70M combined, the value-conscious Belichick was already a little out of his element with the cash-flinging. There’s taking advantage of the market -- which the Patriots did at the start of free agency -- and then there’s buying a pair of $800 sunglasses for full price because you have the money in your wallet.
A few times in the past few weeks, the name Mohamed Sanu has been brought up in relation to Jones. The Patriots gave up a second-rounder for him at the 2019 trade deadline. Sanu had a season-and-a-half left on his deal. He was released during camp in 2020 so the Patriots could duck his nearly $7M cap hit. They paid him $3.8M for his minor contributions in 2019.
If you’re gonna do that for Sanu, why not extend for Jones? That would be, I think, a false equivalency? Is that what it’s called? The 2019 Patriots were in a different spot. They had the best quarterback in football (arguably) surrounded by pass-catching dreck and were laboring to get Tom Brady guys to throw to (see: Antonio Brown; Josh Gordon). So they took a run at Sanu. He went belly-up.
To me, that’s cause for pause when it comes to Julio Jones, not aggressiveness.
With Jones off the market and the Patriots still sitting on $16.3M of cap space what becomes our next speculative chew toy?
I’d say it’s what they do with that cap space, if anything. Right alongside is what they decide to do with Stephon Gilmore’s contract, if anything.
Gilmore’s 2021 cap hit is $16.265M. The Patriots are easily absorbing that so there’s no need for them to address the deal to create space. But Gilmore -- while preferring to stay with the Patriots -- has a $7M base that pays him way less than the other top corners in the league. His deal is obsolete. But he’s coming off an injury and he’s soon to be 31. There really isn’t any urgency at all for the Patriots to address his contract. If they don’t, what -- if any -- steps will Gilmore take to try and get it addressed?
It’s interesting, the Gilmore situation was less fraught before the team made all the offseason acquisitions it did. Now that they’ve gone from having one of the most underwhelming rosters in football to -- with signings and opt-out returns -- a much more competitive one (on paper), a player like Gilmore could mean the difference between competing for a mere playoff spot and competing for a Lombardi.
So. Goodbye Julio. We hardly knew ya. We’re on to Steph.