Next step is extension for Julio Jones

The Atlanta Falcons did the expected Tuesday when they picked up the fifth-year option for receiver Julio Jones.

By exercising this option, the Falcons have Jones signed through 2015. Teams have until May 3 to execute the fifth-year option.

Jones, who is scheduled to make $2,581,875 this season, is on the books for a fully guaranteed $10.176 million come the start of the 2015 league year. For players drafted in the top 10, the value of the fifth-year option is equal to the transition tag for their position during this offseason.

The bigger picture involves getting Jones locked up with a long-term deal, which could happen at any point. Exercising the fifth-year option doesn't prohibit the Falcons from signing Jones to a long-term deal now.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff didn't surrender five draft picks in 2011 to take Jones sixth overall without believing Jones would be a cornerstone for the future. The plans for Jones simply took a slight turn when he suffered a season-ending foot injury last season, limiting him to five games.

Despite his abbreviated 2013 campaign, Jones still showed the explosion and unique ability that makes him such a dangerous weapon. He was on pace for more than 1,800 receiving yards before the injury -- Calvin Johnson-like numbers.

If Jones regains his footing and returns to being the player the Falcons expect him to be, the 25-year-old could find himself being paid like Johnson one day. Remember, the Detroit Lions signed Johnson to a seven-year extension worth more than $16 million per season, making him the league's highest-paid receiver. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald is in the same neighborhood in terms of average per year.

Well, maybe Jones won't make that type of cash. Maybe his negotiations might have to start in the $11-12 million per year range, although he would appear to have more value than receivers such as Seattle's Percy Harvin ($12.9 million per year), Miami's Mike Wallace ($12 million per year), Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe (11.2 million per year), and Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson ($11. 1 million per year).

But Jones should be rewarded handsomely at some point, and the Falcons definitely don't want to see him go anywhere else.

"I'm not going to talk about specific contractual situations," Falcons coach Mike Smith said recently. "I do know this: Julio Jones is going to be an Atlanta Falcon for a long, long, long time."