Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank continued to express optimism about reaching a contract extension with wide receiver Julio Jones soon and said he is not concerned about any potential stall in talks keeping Jones off the field for Sunday's season opener at Minnesota.
Blank, in a recent phone interview with ESPN, was asked directly if he worried about Jones not playing without a contract extension signed.
"I'm optimistic that we'll get something done, so I'm not going to focus on something that I consider a remote possibility,'' Blank said of Jones' playing status.
Asked if the primary issue has to do with guaranteed money, Blank responded, "There's no obstacle, per se. When you're talking about a contract for that much money over that period of time for a premier, outstanding player, it's just very complicated. It's not cut and dry. We just need to be thoughtful about it from our standpoint, as he does from his standpoint. He's at a critical time in his career, and we respect that. We're just going through a pretty normal process to get to where we need to be.''
Jones, 30, still has two years and $21 million left on his contract, but Blank and general manager Thomas Dimitroff vowed to make Jones the league's highest-paid wide receiver. New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas currently tops all with an average of $19.25 million in his five-year extension, with almost $61 million guaranteed. He received a $20 million signing bonus. Thomas' fully guaranteed money runs out after three years, meaning the Saints essentially could walk away after that time.
Sources indicated Jones does not want a contract structured similarly to Thomas' deal.
Jones has said from the beginning he trusts Blank's word about getting the deal done. Jones spent most of training camp rehabbing a foot injury but appears to be close to full speed based on practice Monday. Blank said he appreciates how Jones has handled the process, leaving the business side up to agent Jimmy Sexton.
"I think [Jones] knows what our intention are, whether it be from me, or the coach, or from Thomas,'' Blank said. "He understands that these are not words to us. This is a serious commitment that we've made, and we want to continue to make. And we understand how important he is to the team. He understands how important he is to the team.
"We understand we have to balance what is fair and respectful to him, and what's also fair and respectful to the rest of the roster. Obviously, we have other needs, too. That's what makes it all complicated. But we're making good progress.''
Sexton came to Atlanta a couple of weeks ago to negotiate the deal but obviously left without reaching a contract. It's unclear how much guaranteed money/average per year Sexton is seeking for Jones in the extension, but becoming the highest-paid, of course, is the goal.
"I think he understands that, and we understand that,'' Blank said of making Jones the highest-paid receiver.
Blank promised to reward Jones, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones with extensions leading into the season and to make them "Falcons for life.'' Jarrett received a four-year, $68 million extension ($42.5 million guaranteed) and Deion Jones received a four-year, $57 million extension ($34 million guaranteed).
Julio Jones is on the verge of surpassing Roddy White as the Falcons' all-time leading receiver as he enters 2019 with 10,731 yards, 133 yards shy of surpassing White. Jones also carries the highest receiving yards per game average in league history at 96.7.