Although Arthur Blank did not want to discuss specific contract figures comparing one player to another, the Atlanta Falcons owner made clear his intentions regarding a raise for star wide receiver Julio Jones.
Jones, who has two years and more than $21 million left on the five-year, $71.25 million contract extension he received in August 2015, is set to cash in again prior to the 2019 season. His current average of $14.25 million per year pales in comparison to other top receivers, such as Cleveland's Odell Beckham Jr. at $18 million per year. Antonio Brown, traded from Pittsburgh to Oakland, had his contract adjusted in a three-year deal, although it's unclear if Brown surpassed Beckham's average per year while securing $30.125 million guaranteed. Some view Brown at $19.8 million per year while others see it as a $16.71 million average.
"I think that's a matter of who is doing the math and how it's calculated," Blank told ESPN regarding the rising value of receivers, specific to the Brown adjustment. "Contracts can be interpreted, financially, in many different ways. I'll let Antonio Brown take care of himself, and we will take care of Julio and make sure that he's treated with the respect that he should be and that he's earned."
Blank wouldn't commit right now to making Jones the highest-paid receiver, but he feels confident that lucrative extensions can be worked out for both Jones and nose tackle Grady Jarrett, who had the $15.209 million franchise tag placed on him. While Blank said there is "no timetable" on striking a deal with Jones, the Falcons have until July 15 to reach an extension or multi-year contract with Jarrett, or else he'll play under the one-year franchise tag.
"I think the process will take care of itself," Blank said, referring to both Jones and Jarrett. "It's not going to take care of itself without both sides working on it in a serious, serious way. And I think we have two players that we count on and plan on having as Falcons for life. We clearly understand their value, both in terms of their playing ability and their leadership as well as, you might say beyond that, their engagement in community activities and social justice and things of that nature."
General manager Thomas Dimitroff has had positive discussions with Jones' agent, Jimmy Sexton. Dimitroff's interaction with Jarrett's agent, Todd France, did not lead to anything close to a resolution before the March 4 implementation of the franchise tag.
"Thomas [Dimitroff] and Coach [Dan Quinn] are both working with their agents," Blank said. "Progress is being made. But these are large contracts. They're complicated. They're complicated not only because they're, in themselves, complicated, but then Thomas has to weave his fabric of how to take care of up-and-coming young players that we have to deal with over the next two or three years.
"It's not just about this year. It's about securing our roster in the future as well."
To Blank's point, the Falcons have to maneuver around the $30 million per year for Matt Ryan, the pending deals for Jones and Jarrett, and still have enough to re-sign a strong nucleus of young players.
The team already started negotiations with one-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Deion Jones, who is entering the last year of his rookie deal. Free safety Keanu Neal and tight end Austin Hooper, also one-time Pro Bowlers and part of the same draft class as Deion Jones, are bound to cash in as well, although the Falcons plan to exercise Neal's fifth-year option as he returns from ACL surgery.
"Deion is a great player, a great leader, and he plays with the kind of enthusiasm and the kind of passion that the coach wants to see and the fans want to see," Blank said. "But we have a number of players who are in that category.
"That's the puzzle that Thomas and Coach have to work on every year. We have done the right thing for our current roster, our current players, the right thing to keep our stars like Julio and Grady into the future, but also be mindful of the other young players coming up -- including someone like Deion -- that are important to our franchise for years to come. Because of the salary cap, you don't get a chance to spend an unlimited amount of money. We'll spend as much as we can and right up to it. We want to invest in the very best talent we have."
Julio Jones would be at the top of that list. The Falcons appeased Jones last season by adjusting his contract without any new money added, which allowed him to make $13.4 million instead of $10.5 million. The next adjustment could lead to a $20 million per year average.
"For us, he's a model player, a model leader, and someone we want to have connected to our franchise for as long as he can play football," Blank said.
"We don't have a timetable [for a new deal]. I think the timetable will be what it is. I think it's about making the kind of progress we'd like to see. I think that they've begun that process. It's a dance that you have to go through. And you work closely with the players and the agents. I know we'll come out in a good place, but it's going to take some time."