The Tennessee Titans deserve kudos for acquiring former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones for a second rounder. They now have the best group of position players in football outside of quarterback, where Ryan Tannehill is merely very good. I’m usually not one to care that much about positions outside of quarterback, and we’ve talked to death about the Green Bay Packers needing another receiver, but Julio is a special case. Outside receivers of his caliber are almost never available for any reasonable trade, and players like Jones should receive special consideration in the value they would bring, especially if you’re the Packers.
The Packers are in a tough cap position, but not making this happen, given it only took a second rounder, is inexcusable, because on the Packers Julio is a multi-win player. You don’t get that kind of impact from non-quarterbacks often, but in this case it would have been a no brainer for four major reasons.
Julio is still awesome
While he’s older and not as fast as he once was, Julio Jones is still an incredible individual talent. While he did miss some time in 2020, he finished 2nd in DVOA (to the suspended Will Fuller), and averaged over 15 yards per reception. Since 2014 he’s only averaged under 14 yards per reception one time, and in that season (2015) he played a different role, leading the league in receptions with 136 and leading the league in yards with 1871. Julio doesn’t always have the greatest efficiency as measured by DVOA, but like Davante Adams, this is primarily because he always draws the toughest coverage and is always the quarterback’s go-to in tough situations. The fact of the matter is that despite always being the focal point of the defense, Julio dominates, and more importantly, he makes everyone around him better.
Julio makes everyone around him better
This is usually just an old cliché that old sports writers use to justify the value of old players. In this case, however, it’s legitimate, as Doug Farrar wrote at Touchdown Wire:
“Per Sports Info Solutions, Jones was on the field for 616 of Atlanta’s snaps in 2020, and off the field for 449. With Jones on the field, the Falcons’ completion rate improved from 63.7% to 66.9%. The Average Depth of Target improved from 8.6 to 9.0, their yards per attempt from 6.9 to 8.0, their touchdown rate from 3.9% to 4.8, and their interception rate dropped from 2.3% to 1.1%.”
Doug also includes a tape of several examples where Jones’ presence sprung Calvin Ridley for big gains, which you should watch.
Right now, Davante Adams serves this essential purpose for the Packers, drawing attention and freeing up easy completions to Robert Tonyan, Allen Lazard, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. There is no doubt that Adams’ presence makes his fairly mediocre teammates much better, but Davante pays for this in his own efficiency. While Adams is an amazing receiver who finished 2020 ranked first in DYAR, he was only 11th in DVOA, and that was an unusually high finish for him. And unlike the Falcons, the Packers don’t have a Calvin Ridley as a number two to really punish opponents. Say what you want about Robert Tonyan, but he is still somewhat limited as a consistent threat.
Adding Jones wouldn’t just serve to continue boosting the contributions of Tonyan/MVS/Lazard, it would also boost Adams’ efficiency as well, as opposing defensive backs would face an impossible decision on who to take away. Jones then would not just bring his own brand of elite production; he would also increase the elite production the team receives from Adams and the two stars would both serve to make each other better. In Aaron Rodgers’ best offensive season (2011), the Packer receivers didn’t just rack up yards based on volume. By DVOA, they had 3 receivers in the top 13 (Jordy Nelson finished first, James Jones finished third, and Greg Jennings finished 13th). Matt LaFleur’s scheme creates similar efficiencies with the tertiary receivers like Bob Tonyan, but it requires a lot of inefficient production at the top. Jones would have unlocked this type of production from Adams, and vice versa. Everyone would benefit, and this offense would more closely resemble what it was in 2010-2011.
So, Jones would have brought value as a solo threat and value as an offense enhancer, but we haven’t even gotten to the big one yet.
Julio Jones would have drastically improved the teams’ quarterback play, one way or another
Green Bay is currently suffering from Aaron Rodgers holding out. While we don’t know the exact nature of his complaints with the team, the two big issues seem to be communication issues with the front office and a failure to provide him with elite weapons (or alternately, a failure to keep certain weapons around). Put aside for a moment any thoughts you have on the validity of those complaints. If you are attempting to extend an olive branch to Rodgers, you could do worse than trading a second-rounder (or really, even a first rounder) for one of the best receivers ever to play.
Imagine that as part of this message: “Aaron, we’ve heard your complaints, we promise to include your input in front office decisions going forward, and also we got Julio Jones for you. Please come back.”
One can make a good argument that Jones would have increased the odds of Rodgers returning to play not just this year, but for the next several. You could have even approached him with an extension as part of creating cap space for Jones. If the front office wasn’t thinking along these lines, shame on them.
But even if I’m wrong, and trading for Jones would not have brought Rodgers back into the fold, Jones still would have been a huge part in creating a great situation for Jordan Love. We still have no idea if Love is actually any good, but an offense anchored by Jones and Adams with LaFleur’s play-calling doesn’t need a quarterback to be very good. It’s hard to imagine a better situation for a players’ development, and a boost of confidence.
So, Jones is great, he makes others great, and he would have increased the odds of getting your MVP to come back. Anything else?
Playoff football is different than regular season football, and Jones would have made the Packers much better against good defenses
There’s no question that the Packers have a great regular season offense, but truly good defenses have managed to stymie them in the playoffs. An average NFL defense cannot take away Davante Adams without suffering at the hands of Robert Tonyan or taking the 50/50 gamble of singling MVS. But teams that go far in the playoffs frequently have very good defenses, and you don’t need to look any further than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to see the impact Jones could have had on this team. It’s not that Rodgers was bad against Tampa, but Adams just wasn’t efficient enough, gaining just 67 yards on his 15 targets. Tampa’s coverage and tackling were good enough (outside of one great MVS bomb) to limit the damage from everyone else, and that was enough to get it done.
If they had someone of Jones’ caliber across from Adams, even the great Tampa defense would have been stretched thin, and the Packers likely win this game. Yes, the Green Bay defense wasn’t great, and suffered the Miller/King breakdown at the end of the half. Yes, Rodgers suffered the Sean Murphy-Bunting
pass interference call interception. Yes, there were many different issues that determined the outcome. One of those issues was a lack of production by Adams, and Jones likely fixes that problem.
LaFleur’s system relies on using heavy personnel, forcing defenses to respond with heavy personnel, and then targeting the linebacker/safety mismatches that result. That’s all great until you run into Lavonte David (or until Aaron Jones runs headfirst into Devin White). Since the impact of scheme is limited when the opponent is talented, and since this situation is more likely to arise in the high-stakes playoffs, Jones would have added even more value by increasing their chances of winning in the highest leverage situation in football.
But could they have done it?
As Justis Mosqueda wrote earlier, they absolutely could have afforded Jones, and even though the cap ramifications would have made the future tricky, it almost certainly would have been worth it. Julio Jones is a rare talent who would have provided a multi-win upgrade to the roster. The Titans acquired Jones for a song, as an elite receiver is well worth a mere second-rounder, and it’s ridiculous that no other team was able to outbid them. The fact that Jones was on the trading block was well-known publicly ever since Shannon Sharpe tricked him into saying so on live television and was apparently an open secret all offseason. As such, the Packers really have no excuse here, other than a severe lack of creativity and a poor understanding of how players create value.