The Atlanta Falcons and Julio Jones might not be on the same page regarding renegotiating his deal right now, but adding incentives for 2018 might be the team's best hope to appease the star receiver in the interim.
The Falcons made it known to Jones last month, as Adam Schefter confirmed, that they have no plans to extend him this season, with three years and almost $35 million left on the five-year, $71.25 million contract extension he signed in August 2015. But Schefter also reported that the Falcons could add incentives to modify the current deal. Jones is due to make $10.5 million as a base salary this season.
Jones made $35,506,045 -- or an average of $17.75 million -- in the first two years of the front-loaded deal.
"The only way I see where both sides can save face is through incentives," one current NFL agent told ESPN on the condition of anonymity. "If they give him some incentives that he possibly can achieve, then he can make more money. And the Falcons can sell it [to ownership] because they're able to get some productivity out of it.
"He had, what, three touchdowns last season? If he has four to five touchdowns, then you have it where he makes $250,000 or $500,000. If he gets six to seven touchdowns, he makes $1 million. If he has eight-plus, he makes $1.5 million."
Playing time and team offensive statistics are more examples of incentives the Falcons could present to Jones and his agent, Jimmy Sexton. There is no limit to the number of incentives the Falcons could tie to Jones' current deal, but adding not-likely-to-be-earned incentives (NLTBE) is the typical goal in this type of situation. Such incentives wouldn't affect the team's salary cap immediately. If the Falcons added a likely-to-be-earned incentive, such as 80 catches or 1,400 receiving yards -- numbers Jones has reached in each of the past four seasons -- then those incentives would directly affect the Falcons' 2018 cap.
According to the latest NFLPA figures, the Falcons have $5,661,067 in cap space, a figure likely to fluctuate with the prioritized extensions anticipated for left tackle Jake Matthews, nose tackle Grady Jarrett and free safety Ricardo Allen. Jones' current cap figure of $12.9 million ties cornerback Desmond Trufant for the team's second highest for 2018, behind quarterback Matt Ryan's $17.7 million.
But would incentives be enough to lure Jones to training camp next week rather than his holding out, being fined $40,000 per day, and keeping the offense from practicing without its best player?
It could depend on how discontented the four-time Pro Bowler is about the contract situation. As Schefter reported, Jones is not happy that the news of his not getting an extension has leaked publicly.
The Falcons seem more than willing to address a Jones extension after 2018 when he has two years left on his deal. However, they seem hesitant to set a precedent by reworking Jones' deal with three years remaining. The team typically extends players going into the final years of their contracts.
"When you do something with your very best player, you're not setting a precedent for the whole 53-man roster," the agent said. "Teams all the time hide behind the word 'precedent.' They're trying to sell that because they'll say, 'If we do Julio with three years left, then every other guy with three years left is going to come to us.' No. When you're the best player at your position in the entire league, we'll talk.
"The club can do right and acknowledge, 'Hey, we've got our guy a little underpaid, but not dramatically by any stretch because we did front-load the deal. But we'll give him something. And it's not a precedent-setter unless you're the best player in football."