Connections pay off.
At least, that proved to be the case for Julio Jones.
In fact, without some assistance from his college head coach, there’s a chance the future Hall of Famer wouldn’t have secured his freedom from the Atlanta Falcons. But thanks in small part to Nick Saban, Jones now has a legitimate chance to win a Super Bowl ring as he embarks on a new chapter of his NFL career with the Tennessee Titans.
Julio Jones finally got his wish granted by the Falcons
Heading into the offseason, it seemed like the Falcons had a chance to roll things back with Matt Ryan and his favorite target for at least one more year. However, it later became apparent that Jones had already played his final snap for Atlanta.
Speculation swirled for weeks about potential landing spots for the disgruntled wideout. The New England Patriots seemed like a logical fit given their lack of a true No. 1 receiver. Sticking in the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts also stood out as obvious candidates to make a run at Jones. Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers loomed as an interested suitor in the NFC.
In the end, the Titans won the bidding war for Jones’ services. They sent a 2022 second-round pick and a conditional 2023 fourth-round selection to the Falcons for the seven-time Pro Bowler and a 2023 sixth-rounder.
As it turns out, Jones’ college coach had a hand in making his dream of getting out of Atlanta come true.
The future Hall of Famer can thank Nick Saban for lending a helping hand
Think networking matters?
For Jones, the fact he and Mike Vrabel have a well-known mutual connection ended up playing a role in his journey to Tennessee. As the Titans conducted their due diligence on the longtime Falcons star, Tennessee’s head coach relied on his relationship with Saban to get the inside scoop on Jones.
“I’ve had a really good relationship with coach Saban,” Vrabel said during a virtual press conference on Thursday. “He’s welcomed me down there really to just try to get better and improve as a football coach. And then, the ability to call him and ask him about a situation, about adding a player that he’s coached was something that I was able to do.”
While Vrabel didn’t share any details about Saban’s views on Jones as a football player, he did relay an important message about the future Hall of Famer’s character.
“Coach Saban obviously thinks a great deal about Julio as a person,” Vrabel said.
Jones may have Saban’s stamp of approval from a character standpoint, but the Titans didn’t trade for the same player who dominated corners and safeties as a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide. At 32 years old, Jones appears to be on the back end of his career. And based on how he looked in 2020, he’s not even the best receiver on his own team.
But even if Jones can’t make the same type of impact as A.J. Brown on a week-to-week basis, does that mean the Titans necessarily made a mistake by trading for him?
Did the Titans make the right call to invest in Jones?
If the Titans had made this deal three years ago, they’d be viewed as universal winners. Even a year ago, the idea of acquiring Jones for second- and fourth-round picks would have seemed absurd.
Coming off an injury-shortened season, though, it’s much more difficult to declare Tennessee the hands-down winner in the Jones trade. In many ways, the Titans need a lot of things to work out for them to look smart for acquiring the aging wideout.
From a draft capital standpoint, they didn’t pay an egregious price. However, the Titans didn’t get the Falcons to pay any of the remaining money on Jones’ contract. That means they’re on the hook for $38 million over the next three years, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Jones wants a new deal at some point.
If he continues to struggle with injuries and loses another step, the former Falcon will end up being an expensive mistake. And while nobody doubts Jones’ work ethic and desire to get back to playing at a high level, his age and the amount of wear and tear on his body doesn’t bode well for his chances of justifying his salary.
The Titans better hope Saban’s blessing leads to some nostalgic moments from Jones.
Because if he can’t turn the clock back and rediscover his prime form, Tennessee may move on from him sooner than expected.