More and more talk is centered around Julio Jones these days and it would seem that the Falcons are intent on trading him, so I thought it might be worth a look at the teams that might be in the market for a wide receiver. Jones carries a $15.3 million salary cap charge for a team in a trade but that number could easily be taken down. With the use of void years, Jones’ cap charge could be as low as $3.92 million so while the salary cap should be an important situation I would not take it as a complete block on a trade.
Here is a look at how teams rosters stand right now based on the performance of their top 3 receivers last season. The X axis is the total routes run by those top 3 players in 2020 and the Y axis is the average PFF receiving grade of those top 3 receivers. The top 3 were determined by routes run and would not include any draft picks from this year. The bubble size represents the cap space the teams have remaining.
The teams with the biggest needs should come in the lower quadrants where they have sub performing receivers. From looking at the chart I would say that the most logical fits would be the Colts, Broncos, and 49ers with outside candidates of the Chargers and Football Team.
However, I think it is fair to say that any team trading for Jones should take a different look at things. The right way for them to look at this is to measure what impact Jones, assuming he is healthy, might have their group if he replaces the 3rd guy on the unit. Since it is a “win now” kind of move we also should not just be looking at 2021 cap room but also 2022 cap room since basically a team can take the $15.3 million across two years and trade or cut Jones if they wanted to in 2022.
If we assume 520 routes for Jones this year this is how the teams would move. The size of the bubble now represents the cap space a team would have in 2022 after paying Jones $15.3 million and deferring the cost over two years. The bubbles with a silverish color represent teams that would be over the cap in 2022.
Almost every team in the NFL moves into the dominant WR corps. quadrant by trading for Jones and adding him to the mix. This table provides the increase in snaps and average grade that each team will see by adding Jones to the mix. The column that I think is the most interesting is the dollars spent to get that average increase.
|Team||Top 3 Snaps||Top 3 Grade||Snaps Gained||Grade Increase||Snap Increase||% Grade Increase||% Snap Increase||2022 Cap Space||$/Grade Increase|
When looking at it this way I think I would change the mix. Seattle absolutely should be in on Jones this year. Though they do not have the cap room this year they clearly have the two year room needed to do this. Seattle is a win now team and it would close any receiver questions they have to add a player like Jones. If it means not extending Jamal Adams so be it as they should be looking to win a title. The only question here is would the Seahawks move away from their love of the run if they added Jones?
The Broncos should remain a team to look at though they are expecting injury reinforcements that may make this artificially high. The Ravens would move way up by making a trade here. Now they have to worry about a Lamar Jackson extension but they already have $23 million on the cap for him in 2022 so an extension will lower that number.
I think based on this you could move the Bears and Titans into the mix too to go along with Washington and the Colts that I mentioned above. The Bears might have a really difficult time fitting him this year but if you are going for broke you can make a case at least for them. The Vikings would have a super unit but I don’t think they are going anywhere at this stage with Kirk Cousins and might not use him enough to justify it. They would have to philosophically make a major change though it would be an interesting mix if they did.
The teams not expected to win now such as the Lions should not be considered since this is a short term rather than long term boost. Those with little cap room also should be out. The Packers, Cowboys, Saints, Rams, Texans, Giants, and Bills have no business being involved. Likewise you should question the Chiefs, Bucs, or Eagles from being involved. The 49ers are the only limited cap team that might still consider it only because they have a high priced QB who wont be on the roster in 2022.
It is worth noting that a few of the teams here did not move as much as I thought. Looking closer it is because of some quirks in snap counts and I was too lazy to clean it up. The Jets for example have Keelan Cole as their top route runner but if they made a trade for Jones (they shouldn’t) Cole would be the guy bumped not Corey Davis. Of the teams impacted by this only the Chargers (Guyton remains rather than Mike Williams) would probably move and make sense as a destination.
You can argue with how you want to value a player. In this case a grade was easy to use but we could use OTC values, yards per game, increase in catch rate, productive yards and so on but identifying the cost per some impact metric is important in helping with a trade or signing decision. And in cases like this sometimes looking just at 2021 cap room might not be the best way to look at a move for a high impact type of player.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.