Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones has skipped the team’s offseason program and will now be holding out of training camp this summer in hopes of forcing the club back to the bargaining table to rework his contract. Jones is entering the fourth year of a six-year, $71.25 million contract extension ($47M of it guaranteed) he signed back before the 2015 season. His average salary over the life of the contract is $14.2 million per year, which is now considered below market value for a player of his caliber.
Jones’ contract was not below market value at the time it was signed. The $47 million in guaranteed money was the most ever doled out to a wide receiver in the history of the league. But circumstances change quickly in the NFL, and all sports, for that matter. The caveat of signing a long-term contract with guaranteed money front loaded is that the end of the contract may fall below market value should the player maintain or eclipse their performance, which Jones has.
The $14.2 million average is not what Jones will be seeing hit his bank account in the final three seasons of his extension. The Falcons have already paid him $47,010,289 of the $71,256,045 they agreed to in the contract. He is owed $10.5M this season, $12.5M next season and $11.426M in 2020.
The $10.5M cash earnings this season ranks him 12th among wide receivers at the moment. Considering he is a perennial Pro Bowler who has absolutely torn up the NFL since coming out of Alabama in 2011, you can see why he’s holding out.
But what Jones isn’t getting is that he cashed in on his value back in 2015 when he signed the extension. He is seeing what other star receivers – ones whose resumes are lighter than his – are getting in the open market and wants to re-enter. He can’t have it both ways. The Falcons opened up the vault for him and paid him the most of any WR in the game when the time came. Unfortunately, NFL contracts are front-loaded with guaranteed money as a tactic to defray the financial commitment over time, which leads to leaner paychecks as the contract winds down. That’s life. If you want long-term security, you have to take the trimmings that go with it.
The Falcons have said they are not going to sit down with Jones and rehash his deal until after this season. They’ve already allocated their salary cap commitments for 2018 and Jones will now have to wait his turn. He is willing to absorb whatever fines come his way which is not advisable looking at the current state of the Falcons’ finances. They are a tad over $7 million over the cap and are still hung over from the massive chunk of change they forked over to QB Matt Ryan (5 years, $150M, $100M guaranteed) and were not planning to deal with Jones until 2019.
Jones got paid in true NFL fashion when his time came. Too bad for him his time is still here. He is underpaid, yes, but in this era where the constraints of the salary cap hamstring teams, he’ll have to wait a little while longer for his next adjustment.
UPDATE: Since press time, the Falcons and Julio Jones’ restructured his contract to pay him an additional $2.9 million in 2018. Jones’ base salary went down from $10.5 million to $9 million and was given a $4.4 million signing bonus, making his salary $13.4 million in 2018 instead of $10.5 million.
This just appeases Jones for the moment. He has two years left on his deal after this season. The Falcons did this as a goodwill gesture and vowed to stick to their initial promise to address this situation long-term after the season.