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  1. ATLANTA -- Without a doubt, wide receiver Julio Jones (104 catches/1,593 yards/6 TDs in 2014) can be a torch-bearer at his position for years to come. But that doesn't mean the Atlanta Falcons -- particularly owner Arthur Blank and general manager Thomas Dimitroff -- should automatically rubber-stamp Jones for a contract extension in upwards of $15 million annually ... sometime in the very-near future. PRESENT vs. FUTUREIt's one thing to be indifferent about Jones missing 15 of 64 career games when the Alabama product holds per-season averages of 76.2 catches/1,083 yards/6.5 TDs ... while still playing on an NFL entry-level contract. According to Sportrac.com, Jones currently ranks 9th among receivers for the highest salary-cap hit for 2015 -- $10.176 million. He shares that number with the Bengals' A.J. Green, also from the 2011 draft class. It's worth noting that, moving forward, other highly paid receivers from that countdown's top 10 -- Larry Fitzgerald (unrestricted free agents), Dwayne Bowe (could be released by Chiefs), Vincent Jackson (could be released by Bucs), Greg Jennings (could be released by Vikings) and Percy Harvin (could be released by Jets) -- might be in line for substantial salary reductions. But the Falcons' expectations for Jones -- in many areas -- would surely change if/when the 26-year-old inks an elite-level contract extension, in the neighborhood of Detroit's Calvin Johnson ($20.6 million cap hit for 2015), Houston's Andre Johnson ($16.1 million) ... or whatever Dez Bryant (three-year average: 91 catches/1,312 yards/14 TDs), Randall Cobb (91 catches/1,287 yards/12 TDs in 2014) and Jeremy Maclin (85 catches/1,318 yards/10 TDs last season) command on the open market this winter. Armed with a new deal ... 1) Jones should feel obliged to start in at least 14 games per year (over the life of that contract), barring catastrophic injury. At first blush, this seems like an attainable goal. After all, don't stud receivers typically move heaven and earth to suit up every Sunday? Sure, but the Falcons still need to know their guy -- aka The Man -- will bring it every week. The rare exception lies with Calvin Johnson from last season: With the Lions holding a 4-2 record, the club took a sizable risk, essentially giving Johnson a three-week respite from the grind, holding him out of action for Weeks 7/8 and then letting him rest during the Week 9 bye. When Calvin returned to the field in Week 10, he was healthy and ready to guide Detroit (then 6-2) for the stretch run. The Falcons of the last two seasons never had that luxury of stashing wins in September/October ... and then using that flexibility for injured players in November and December. 2) Jones may be expected to share the face-of-the-franchise duties with QB Matt Ryan, in terms of generating Personal Seat Licenses/ticket sales for Atlanta's billion-dollar-plus stadium, which opens in 2017 This shouldn't imply the soft-spoken, mild-mannered Jones shirks his post-game or post-practice responsibilities during the season. But the day will come when Roddy White -- Jones' charismatic, outspoken and eminently personable receiving partner -- won't be with the Falcons (at least in a starting role). And when that happens, Jones will be tapped to shake some hands, kiss some babies, be out front with the media -- whatever it takes to help the Falcons' brand grow with fans and prospective ticket-buying customers. A FRESH PERSPECTIVENew Falcons head coach Dan Quinn just completed a two-year stint with the vaunted Seattle Seahawks (defensive coordinator), who captured one Lombardi Trophy and two NFC titles without a superstar receiver on the team. OK, so Percy Harvin was getting paid like a top-shelf wideout for 2013 and parts of '14 (before getting traded to the Jets) ... but 23 catches and zero regular-season receiving TDs with Seattle hardly qualifies as "superb," "great," "stellar" ... or even "painfully average." During his introductory press conference with the Falcons, Quinn complimented Julio Jones whenever pressed for comment, while relaying his enthusiasm for working with the star on a daily level. But as someone with "control" of the Falcons' 53-man roster, Quinn also understands the benefit of having a balanced distribution of salary-cap funds -- offense and defense -- on a championship-worthy roster. And if his new quarterback (Matt Ryan) and receiver (Jones) are eating up roughly $35 million in cap space, as soon as 2016 ... then how can the new-and-improved Falcons resemble anything of Quinn's old Seahawks -- who reached back-to-back Super Bowls when devoting less than $8 million in cap money to QB Russell Wilson (due for a hefty raise soon) and tailback Marshawn Lynch (four-year average: 1,612 total yards/14 TDs)? TRADE POSSIBILITIESEver wonder why so many deals -- across the league's 32 teams -- get made in the first few days of unrestricted free agency? Ever wonder why so many landmark trades become official during the three first three rounds of the NFL draft? The answer can be summed up in one word: Pressure. Those five days (two for the draft, three for free agency) may be the only ones on the NFL calendar when executives are under extreme time constraints to make snap decisions. It's also the only time window when they're directly competing with 31 other clubs for the quick-strike attention of players and agents -- in hopes of crafting precedent-setting signings or franchise-altering trades. Which brings us to this: The Falcons have the option of franchise-tagging Jones for 2016 (at roughly $12.2 million guaranteed) before being forced into any high-stakes negotiations with their star -- essentially squeezing six reasonably priced seasons out of a supreme talent, prior to unfettered free agency. It's a situation very similar to Major League Baseball players on entry-level contracts, upon reaching the big leagues. In other words, unlike the aforementioned five days of extreme pressure, the Falcons' brass shouldn't feel any urgency to offer a top-of-the-market extension to Jones in the next 6-9 months. The club is already in good cap shape, and Jones' current contract still doesn't come at a prohibitive cost. And if Julio's representatives should become unhappy with this step-by-step strategy, it's their right to demand a trade -- just like the Falcons have every right to use the following nugget of information, as a counter: Randy Moss, perhaps one of the five best receivers in NFL history, was dealt to the Patriots at age 30 (circa 2007) ... for a simple 4th-round pick (110th overall). Eight years later, it's unconscionable to believe Moss (982 catches/15,292 yards/156 TDs) could have been had for such a bargain-bin price ... especially since the Cowboys once surrendered back-to-back first-round choices (2000/01) for Seahawks wideout Joey Galloway, or that Dallas gave up a 1st- and 3rd-rounder for receiver Roy Williams (during the 2008 season). The common denominator in both fruitless deals? Owner/general manager Jerry Jones green-lighted the Galloway and Williams moves; and since Dez Bryant has no chance of vacating the Dallas nest anytime soon (via the franchise tag or long-term extension) ... the Cowboys won't be in the market for a high-end receiver on the verge of a mega-payday. As such, there wouldn't be many other suitors -- as a means of trading away a boatload of draft picks for a single receiving talent. THE WAITING GAMEHere's another note worth mentioning: As fellow classmates of the 2011 draft, A.J. Green (329 catches/4,874 yards receiving/35 TDs) and Jones are certainly on similar career trajectories. However, no one would disagree that, after four years of NFL activity, Green holds the edge with overall production, week-to-week consistency and durability -- having missed only four regular-season outings. So, how does this translate to contract extensions? Green's representatives will undoubtedly advise their client to wait out the respective signings of Dez Bryant, Randall Cobb and Jeremy Maclin (2015 free-agent class) ... and then submit to a friendly game of Extension Chicken with Julio Jones. Because whomever signs first between the top 10 draftees (No. 4 and 6 overall) ... the latter would probably pursue a slightly higher payday. And by merit alone, Green deserves the more exorbitant rate. LETTING GO OF THE HAPPY PASTLet's end with something short and sweet: If the Falcons immediately choose to re-sign Jones, or wait 20-plus months to accomplish the same feat, or even explore the nuclear option of trading him (for the sake of salary-cap balance), the 2011 trade with the Browns should have nothing to do with it. You remember The Trade with Cleveland ... as Dimitroff and Co. made a 20-slot jump to No. 6 overall, as a means of drafting Jones? And in return, the Browns eventually ended up with a package of five draft picks (four total players), resulting in defensive tackle Phil Taylor, receiver Greg Little, fullback Owen Marecic and QB Brandon Weeden. It goes without saying: The Falcons easily won that trade with the Browns; and re-signing Jones for $100 million wouldn't further justify the landmark move ... even if Atlanta (hypothetically) claims three Super Bowl titles over the next seven seasons. In other words, there's no need to double-down on a head-to-head victory that has already become academic ... unless you're chasing a Super Bowl with pure motives, of course.
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