Former NFL wide receiver Roy Green talks primarily football with Julio Jones, but Green has mentored Jones long enough to understand Jones' mindset on business matters.
When it comes to Jones' contract situation and the possibility of becoming the NFL's highest-paid receiver with the Atlanta Falcons, Green has a good sense of what Jones is thinking.
"I do know that his priority is for all of his players to get taken care of," Green said. "He doesn't want to break up the team because you have to pay him a certain amount of money. There are ways for him to get his money. His biggest talks are all about his teammates. His attitude is amazing. He's all about his teammates."
Cleveland's Odell Beckham Jr. currently has the highest average annual salary among wide receivers at $18 million. Maybe Jones will reach or exceed that in a reworked deal, but his contract is just one of the subjects the Falcons have to address as they look toward the 2019 season and beyond.
The front office hasn't been overly active in free agency, with the most significant signings being offensive guards James Carpenter (four years, $21 million with $9.25 million guaranteed) and Jamon Brown (three years, $18.75 million with $12.75 million guaranteed). After placing the franchise tag on defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, the Falcons have until July 15 to sign him to an extension. If they don't, Jarrett will eat up $15.209 million in 2019 cap space.
The Falcons did, however, convert $8.75 million of quarterback Matt Ryan's 2019 base salary to a signing bonus to create $7 million in cap room, which occurred before the signings of Brown ($4.333 million '19 cap number) and Carpenter ($2.875 million '19 cap number). But tinkering with Ryan's contract puts money off into future years, so that could create a pinch later on.
The Falcons currently have $6,534,049 in cap room according to NFLPA figures, which ranks in the bottom five in the league. That's why they are at the point of signing guys such as veteran tight end Logan Paulsen to minimum salary benefits deals ($930,000 minimum base salary with a maximum of $90,000 additional compensation).
To Green's point regarding Jones' team-first mindset, the Falcons have to be cognizant of the future regardless of how the 2019 roster comes together or how the 2019 season plays out. A source told ESPN that the team has already started talks on a contract extension for one-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Deion Jones, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Falcons plan to exercise the fifth-year option on one-time Pro Bowl strong safety Keanu Neal in 2020, but they'll have to sign Neal to a long-term deal at some point as another core defensive player -- provided he fully recovers from last season's ACL tear.
One-time Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper, like Deion Jones, is entering the final year of his rookie deal and is bound for a long-term extension as well. The same goes for linebacker De'Vondre Campbell as part of that talented 2016 draft class. And the Falcons might have a tough decision to make with former first-round pick Vic Beasley if he has a bounce-back season in 2019. The team already committed to his $12.81 million now-guaranteed salary for this season, but coach Dan Quinn said Beasley would have to earn a long-term extension.
Peeking into 2020, the Falcons have about $43 million in cap space against a projected adjusted cap of $200 million based on their current contracts. That does not take into account potential deals for Jarrett, Deion Jones or Hooper; the fifth-year option for Neal; or a possible Beasley extension. And because the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the league's players and owners expires at the end of the 2020 season, planning beyond 2020 is tricky.
Looking back on it now, maybe the Falcons wish they would have gotten a hometown discount on Ryan's deal, which carries cap numbers of $33.55 million, $36.05 million and $36.80 million from 2020 to 2022. Then again, you have to reward your franchise quarterback after he's named the 2016 MVP.
As for Julio Jones, his cap numbers are $13.47 million and $12.89 million for the next two seasons. Former NFL agent and salary-cap expert Joel Corry foresees Jones getting a three-year, $60 million extension. At the same time, Jones and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, might want to wait and see how much other top receivers such as the Saints' Michael Thomas get first.
"I believe there are a handful of elite receivers -- of course, Julio being one of this group -- so, of course, he has the ability to be top paid," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff told ESPN.
"We're in the process, after free agency. Had a brief conversation with his representation and we'll continue to do that on the other side of free agency. Hopefully, we'll move along, and things will take care of itself."
Jones has at least one supporter backing him to be the highest paid at the position.
"This is me speaking, but it's very evident that he should be the highest paid," Green said. "He knows he's the best. It's not about statistics and things people want to write and say. All the things that he brings to the table are unparalleled."