Is Julio Jones the Next Randy Moss? By Tyler Beraldi
“I’m outta there.”
It appears that with every passing offseason, Patriots fans find themselves frothing at the mouth over a new generational talent supposedly showing interest. Whether it’s Calvin Johnson mulling an NFL return, Antonio Brown somehow passing mental exams, or Larry Fitzgerald being “spotted at Logan Airport”, the odds of such elite acquisitions normally range from nonexistent to unlikely. However, this is more a case of lofty expectations than Belichick complacency, as for bargain price, The Patriots have proven to be anything but dormant.
The most glaring example of this would of course be Randy Moss’ Foxboro debut coming at the cost of a measly 4th round pick. While it’s easy to call this robbery through hindsight, at the time of the trade, the Raiders had all but given up on the aging wideout after two of his worst seasons in the league. Moss was nearing the wrong side of 30, and injuries caused him to play the fewest games in his career the previous season. On a sinking ship, departure appeared to be mutually beneficial for both parties, and what followed was a savvy trade for an offense in need of a dominant target.
Julio Jones, aged 32, has been battling injuries for his past two seasons in the league and has taken a noticeable dip in his production. Atlanta’s Titanic has been sinking since, if we’re being honest, 2018, and has finally taken the plunge into open waters. Although his trade value would warrant a 1st round selection in the average fan’s eyes, league officials reportedly feel different, calling his age, durability, and cap hit into question. Despite this, he is a transcendent talent, revered for his athletic ability and catch radius, among essentially every other attribute you can praise a receiver for, and as of today has been flooded with potential suitors. At the top of this list lies the New England Patriots.
Outside of Atlanta, The Patriots are the betting odds favorites for the Julio Jones sweepstakes, and while it’s difficult to predict where the all-pro lands, it’s easy to see why The Patriots’ chances are so highly touted. Despite a monstrous spending spree in free agency, New England remains one of the few destinations who can actually withstand Julio’s cap hit, carrying the 9th most space in the league. According to NBC Sports’ Michael Holly, Jones also has a desire to play with Cam Newton, though the prospect of potentially catching passes from rookie Mac Jones can’t be too unappealing either. On top of this, the Falcons are reportedly looking to trade outside of the NFC for the same reason you wouldn’t allow your friends from high school to date your ex, creating a perfect storm of variables leaning in Foxboro’s favor.
With interest on both sides and an elite player done with being called a “touchdown virgin” (thanks Matt Ryan!), the question isn’t if a deal could happen, it’s what the deal would be. As previously mentioned, a 1st round pick has been deemed too steep of a price for most franchises to pay, though a deal the likes of Randy’s is equally improbable. A 2nd or 3rd round pick paired with a few later selections appears to be the most likely basement asking price, though it wouldn’t be shocking to see a young player such as N’Keal Harry get thrown into the mix with hopes of a better future elsewhere, a reality which, despite the bleak outlook fans have granted him in New England, surely isn’t far removed from the realm of possibility. Stephon Gilmore’s name has been thrown into the ring as well, though this isn’t nearly as viable as Atlanta’s asking price is far lower than the cost of a former DPOY and an early pick. At the end of the day, nobody will be able to predict the exact price for a guy like Julio, but it can be assumed it’ll involve some collection of early to mid round picks and a handful of decent or high potential players.
As for whether the Patriots follow in their own footsteps and strike for the star wideout, akin to their moves for Antonio Brown, Brandin Cooks, and Randy Moss, that decision is unfortunately determined by a few question marks. First of all, can Cam Newton play? Though last year displayed a lackluster level of production, it’s unfair to place the blame solely on Cam’s shoulders given the plethora of unprecedented factors teams faced last season, especially in a brand new system coming off an injury. The team doesn’t need SuperCam, but they do need someone who won’t overthrow open receivers in the flats. The second question mark is Julio’s age and durability. Barring a Fitzgerald-esque run, the guy likely has two to three more years left in his prime, and like any player of his caliber would, his goal in a potential trade is to go somewhere and win. This all leads to the final, most important question, which is can The Patriots compete with the roster they have today? For Bill Belichick to make a move for Julio Jones, he has to believe the roster he’s assembled is capable of dethroning Mahomes’ Chiefs and taking the AFC’s crown with Julio Jones, and capable of at least being competitive without him. Even without a full offseason and with instability at quarterback, the Patriots would immediately need to enter win-now mode to make dispatching the amount of assets necessary for such an acquisition to be worth it.
After Belichick’s manic offseason, it appears he has already at least started gearing up for the future to become the present, especially in the aftermath of a Tom Brady Cinderella story in Tampa Bay. For the first time in a long time, Bill has everything to prove, and has assembled a juggernaut squad that appears to be one dominant piece away from elite status, at least on paper. They can take the cap hit, they have the assets, and they have the support of the fanbase behind them, but even with all this, I’d be hard pressed to call The Patriots the betting odds favorites they’re being reported to be. Surely in the upper echelon of suitors, but with a whole league in the market, and so many questions that need addressing, it remains a gamble to say the least. Only one man knows whether the risk is deemed worthy; though if history is any indicator, and Randy Moss’ golden jacket still hangs high, it’s hard not to roll the dice for a chance at greatness.