Jones was the league's most productive wide receiver for a decade. Although now 32 and with some injury questions, many believed he could still fetch a #1 draft pick in a trade. I had another thought: if the draft has already taken place, players should be traded for other players. If you lose a great player like Jones, you should get at least one player in return who can help the Falcons compete this year. If you don't, you're making your own team worse. That's not a good message to send potential season-ticket buyers.
Apparently, the Falcons had little choice. They weren't trading Jones so much as they were getting rid of $22 million, Jones's annual salary. The Falcons were in so much salary cap trouble, they had no money to pay this year's rookies.
Jones is the 25th highest-paid NFL player, 8th highest-paid who isn't a quarterback, and 2nd highest paid receiver after DeAndre Hopkins. He's eating 11.1%, or 1/9, of the team's salary cap, and the roster size is 53.
In the six seasons prior to his injury-shortened 2020, Jones averaged 98 yards per game. 2014, the first year of that run, was the last year of his rookie contract that averaged $4 million/year. In the next four seasons he averaged $14.25 million. His $22 million/year contract began in 2019. The Falcons did nearly win a Super Bowl in those years, but made the playoffs only twice.
At the time he signed his previous contract, his average salary was under one-tenth of the salary cap. Now it's just over 11%. If his new contract was commensurate with his previous contract's proportion of the salary cap, it would have been around $18 million. He wouldhave been traded anyway because he wanted out and quarterback Matt Ryan, not Jones, provides the bulk of the Falcon's salary cap problems. But $18 million might have attracted a better trade offer than $22 million could.
If Jones is at full health, the Titans were correct to go after him despite his salary. Their qb-rb-wr combination is now probably the best in the league, and they see an opportunity to win the Super Bowl right away. Jones could be their missing piece.
In general, however, wide receivers aren't worth what Jones is getting. Even the best receivers shouldn't absorb that much of the payroll. Of the ten highest-paid receivers in 2020, only two made the playoffs.
Here are the eight receivers (including tight ends) who were in the top ten in either receptions or yards and whose team made the playoffs in 2020:
Tyreek Hill was the 40th highest-paid player in the league (7th among receivers) at $18 million.
Stefon Diggs was 97th highest-paid at $14.4 million.
Davante Adams was 93rd highest-paid at $14.5 million.
Travis Kelce was 99th highest-paid at $14.3 million.
Allen Robinson was 106th highest-paid at $14 million.
Tyler Lockett was 190th at $10.25 million.
JuJu Smith-Schuster made $1 million on his rookie contract.
D.K. Metcalf made $1.15 million on his rookie contract.
All of these players may deserve a raise someday. But I think we have a clear idea of how much a great receiver is worth if a team wants to win. And it's nowhere close to what Jones is making.
James Leroy Wilson writes from Nebraska. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. If you find value in his articles, subscribe. Your support through Paypal helps keep him going. You may contact him for your writing, editing, and research needs: jamesleroywilson-at-gmail.com.