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The 49ers Shouldn’t Trade for Julio Jones

Brian Renick
May 24, 2021 at 1:00 PM4


This first sentence is for everybody who hate-clicked on this article based on the headline: I think Julio Jones is an incredible wide receiver and a Hall-of-Fame talent at the position, and he would make the 49ers' offense better. With that concession out of the way, I don't believe the value is there for the San Francisco 49ers to make this trade because, while he would make the offense better, the cost to make the trade does not match the added value to this particular offense.

The Cost

There are two aspects to the cost of trading for Julio Jones: the cost in assets to make the trade, and the cost of carrying the remaining three years of Jones' contract. If Julio Jones is traded, the team acquiring him will only be responsible for the base salary figures of his contract, which according to Spotrac.com, look like this:

2021 - $15.3 million (age 32 season)
2022 - $11.5 million (age 33 season)
2023 - $11.5 million (age 34 season)

The team, as currently constructed, can't absorb that $15.3 million cap hit this season, but it could always restructure the deal, convert base salary into signing bonus, and lower the cap hit this season. The only downside to that route is that it would guarantee more money, and create a larger dead cap hit, later in the deal when Jones is older and less likely to be as productive. The team could also free up more than enough cap space by moving Jimmy Garoppolo's contract, but that does not seem to be a route the team is willing to go at this time. The $38 million it would cost over the next three seasons seems pretty steep for a 32-year old wide receiver, even one as accomplished and talented as Julio Jones.

The 49ers are also in a precarious position when it comes to the assets necessary to acquire Jones. The team just traded its next two first-round picks to the Miami Dolphins in the move up to the third pick in this year's draft, along with its third-round compensatory pick in 2022. With expensive contract extensions looming for players like linebacker Fred Warner, EDGE Nick Bosa, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, and possibly tackle Mike McGlinchey, the team will need to supplement the roster with cheap, controllable assets acquired in the draft. Keeping as many draft picks as possible would be the prudent move.

The Player

Julio Jones is a Hall-of-Fame caliber player. He has been downright dominant since entering the league in 2011. If you do not include the 2020 season, during which he missed seven games due to injury, the past five seasons has seen him average 1,559 yards, 6 TDs, and 15.2 yards per reception. These numbers are in line with his career averages, with the touchdowns and yards per reception being the same.

All of these numbers would suggest that Jones would be an upgrade for the 49ers' offense, but the one thing that concerns me is Jones' touchdown numbers. While a ton of yards through the air is great, there is not enough value in paying $38 million to a player who hasn't had more than eight touchdowns in a season since 2012. Brandon Aiyuk scored seven total touchdowns as a rookie last year, while only playing in twelve games. Not only that, but Jones is coming off a season in which he missed seven games. This does not mean that Jones is injury-prone, but it should give pause to the 49ers, a team that experienced the absurd number of injuries it did in 2020. His age, combined with the injury last season, creates uncertainty with the remaining salary obligations on his deal.

The Offense

Julio Jones is a fit for any offense. There is no debating that fact. We also know that he fits in Kyle Shanahan's offense because he was a part of it for two seasons, and the results speak for themselves. However, let's not forget that his performances in those offenses came in his age 26 and 27 seasons.

Jones had an absolutely absurd season during Kyle Shanahan's first year as the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator--203 targets for 136 receptions, 1,871 yards, 8 TDs, and 116.9 yards per game--but if you average out his two seasons with Shanahan, you get these numbers: 109.5 receptions, 1,640 yards, 7 TDs, and 102.5 yards per game (obviously those numbers are buoyed by that first season).

Last year was Brandon Aiyuk's first season in the NFL, and while injuries and COVID limited him to 12 games, he put up this stat line, courtesy of Pro Football Reference:

Games Receiving Rushing
Year Age Tm Pos G GS Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD 1D Lng R/G Y/G Ctch% Y/Tgt Rush Yds TD 1D Lng Y/A Y/G A/G
2020 22 SFO WR 12 11 96 60 748 12.5 5 42 49 5 62.3 62.50% 7.8 6 77 2 3 38 12.8 6.4 0.5
Career 12 11 96 60 748 12.5 5 42 49 5 62.3 62.50% 7.8 6 77 2 3 38 12.8 6.4 0.5

If you were to extrapolate out that performance over a 17-game season, you would get these receiving numbers:

136 targets, 85 receptions (62.5% catch rate), 1,062.5 yards (12.5 yards per reception), 7 TDs and 62.5 yards per game.

While the receiving yards don't equal what Jones put up in Atlanta, you have to assume that Aiyuk will be even better next season with a year under his belt, and Jones will not be able to reproduce the same numbers at 32 years old that he did at 26 and 27 years of age, respectively. This also doesn't take into account the rushing numbers and value that Aiyuk adds to the offense.

The 49ers already have two good, young, and ascending wide receivers on the roster in Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. They also have the best tight end in football, George Kittle, who is a tremendous weapon in the passing game. Adding a third wide receiver to fill the role of recently-departed Kendrick Bourne should be a priority for the team, but not necessarily at the cost of Jones' contract.

According to Sharp Football Stats, in 2020 the 49ers used 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) on 44% of their offensive plays (460), the third-lowest percentage in the league. The team employed personnel packages with two wide receivers or fewer the other 56% of the time. These personnel grouping numbers are consistent over Kyle Shanahan's tenure in San Francisco (39%-44% over his four years). If the 49ers trade for Jones, one of their young wide receivers (or Jones) will not be on the field 56%-61% of the time.

It would be much more cost-effective, and valuable, to seek out a third wide receiver within the current wide receiver room, or another post-June 1st cap casualty like Jamison Crowder of the Jets, rather than taking on the huge cost of Julio Jones, no matter how talented he is.

Julio Jones would make the 49ers better, especially in the 2021 season, but his contract, his age, the current design of the offense, and the young wide receivers currently on the roster don't make sense from a value position.

The 49ers shouldn't trade for Julio Jones.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


4 Comments

  • David NinerGang Richie
    Great Article! You took the words right out my mouth! I feel exactly the same way! Although, Julio Jones is a Hall of Fame player and I would really enjoy having him on the 49ers, as I believe he would make the 49ers offense unstoppable, his contract would handicap the Niners for years to come and would ultimately shorten the 49ers Super Bowl window after this year, because his contract would prevent them from re-signing the likes of Fred Warner, Nick Bosa, and Deebo Samuel. If last year was any indication for Julio Jones, as he ages, and his body breaks down, he will never again be the same Julio Jones, as he was with Kyle Shanahan in 2016. Plus, I agree and been believing that slot receiver, Jamison Crowder would be the perfect fit for the Niners and Kyle Shanahan’s offense, upon Crowder’s inevitable release from the Jets.
    May 25, 2021 at 11:52 AM
    1
  • Max
    Good article
    May 25, 2021 at 12:30 AM
    2
  • Barry77
    This guy has never wrote an original article in his life.
    May 24, 2021 at 8:55 PM
    1
    Response: written*
  • Frank
    Brian, great article. While the thought of Julio in Coach's offense is exciting, the reality of trading for him is sketchy. By that I mean his age, wear & tear, injury history and reduction in TD catches are concerning. If Hurd can stay healthy and Juaun Jennings can step up, our receiving corps could get a big boost from within. They just signed Bennie Fowler...a big WR with experience but few injuries in his past. Collectively, the potential existing depth could arguably make trading for Jones a somewhat moot point. It's a gamble of sorts either way. BL: I'd rather see the Niners invest in a LB or DB.
    May 24, 2021 at 1:23 PM
    2

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