NFL experts grade the Julio Jones trade: Did the Falcons not have a better offer?

Julio Jones has been traded to the Tennessee Titans. The Atlanta Falcons will receive a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 fourth-rounder in exchange for the superstar wide receiver, while also sending Tennessee a sixth-round pick in 2023.

In 10 seasons with the Falcons, Jones caught 848 passes for 12,896 yards with 60 touchdowns. He was named to seven Pro Bowls and was a two-time first-team All-Pro. The 32-year-old was limited to nine games because of injury last season, when he had 51 catches for 771 yards and three touchdowns. He joins rising star A.J. Brown in Tennessee, giving the Titans one of the NFL’s best receiving duos.

The Falcons, who have a new coach (Arthur Smith) and general manager (Terry Fontenot) have major salary-cap issues, and the trade will now allow them to sign their rookie class, which includes No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts. Jones had requested a trade in March.

We asked our panel of ESPN NFL experts to grade and weigh in on the Falcons-Titans trade, debate where Tennessee ranks in the AFC and rank where the duo of Jones and Brown is among the league’s top receivers:

What’s your gut reaction to the trade?

Turron Davenport, Titans reporter: This trade makes too much sense for the Titans. They found the ultimate balance on offense last season with a 2,000-yard rusher in Derrick Henry, a 1,000-yard receiver in A.J. Brown and another receiver in Corey Davis who finished just 16 yards short of 1,000. Jones takes the offense to the next level. Although he is 32, he’s going to face the most single coverage he has ever seen as a pro and will have a young rising player in Brown on the opposite side of him. I don’t think the compensation is too rich for the Titans. Injury could be a factor, but Jones should bounce back from last season, when he missed seven games with a hamstring injury. This is a great deal for the Titans.

Michael Rothstein, Falcons reporter: It’s a trade that was expected to come down — the question was just what team and what terms — but it’ll still be a jarring one for Falcons fans because Julio Jones is such a franchise icon. More and more, however, star players are not finishing their careers with the teams they are most known for, so this is basically what should have been expected.

Jeremy Fowler, national NFL writer: The big win for the Falcons is dumping Jones’ entire $15 million guaranteed salary in 2021, because this was a cap and cash move above all else. Some teams wanted Atlanta to absorb part of the payout, and that was a non-starter. The Titans waited this out, so they didn’t give up a massive haul and can restructure a few contracts to make room for Jones, instantly changing the complexion of the offense in the process

Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: My reaction is pretty clinical at this point, considering how long we knew this was coming. No surprise that it happened, where he ended up or what the compensation was. The Falcons had to trade him, everybody knew they had to trade him, they got about as much as they could have hoped to get and they got him out of the conference. The Titans had a crying need at receiver and got the best player they possibly could to fill it — as long as Jones is healthy.

Seth Walder, sports analytics writer: It creates a disjointed offseason for the Falcons. Atlanta entered 2021 with a choice: run it back with an offense that still has serious upside and hope for minimal defensive regression, or tear it down and draft a rookie quarterback. Either was justifiable, but it’s a lot harder to pull off the former without Jones. Instead of committing to either philosophy, it might end up in no-man’s-land.

What’s your grade for the trade from the Falcons’ perspective?

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