Patriots

Analysts predict Julio Jones trade could vault Patriots back among AFC elite

NFL Network's "Good Morning Football" crew said adding Julio Jones would make the Patriots a playoff contender. But some expressed doubt in the team's quarterbacks, especially Cam Newton.

Julio Jones Patriots
Julio Jones. Jose Lepe/AP
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This is no joke, folks: Julio Jones wants out of Atlanta, and the Falcons are actively looking to trade him.

If you need more than the word of NFL insider Ian Rapoport on the matter, take it from Jones himself. “I’m outta there, man,” he told Shannon Sharpe on Fox Sports 1’s UNDISPUTED Monday morning — though he might not have realized he was on the air at the time.

The Falcons have reportedly asked teams to give up a first-round pick for their star wide receiver, who was hampered by injuries in 2020. However, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer suggests the team might be willing to part with Jones in exchange for a second-rounder now that the draft has come and gone.

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Enter the New England Patriots, who have reportedly had internal discussions about a Jones trade since his availability became known.

A roundtable on NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” discussed what acquiring Jones would do for the Patriots, with Peter Schrager saying the move would put New England right back among the AFC’s best teams.

“They get all those defensive players back who opted out because of COVID-19 concerns. You have this incredible offseason. And now you get a Julio Jones possibility? Suddenly you’re one of the most decorated rosters in the league, and you’re right back there with the Bills, the Chiefs, the Ravens, and the Browns,” he said.

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Schrager also points out that the Patriots have the draft capital to spend on Julio Jones because they didn’t have to trade a future first-round pick to select rookie quarterback Mac Jones. That fact, combined with the Patriots having the cap space to absorb Julio Jones’s contract, makes New England a serious contender for the receiver’s services.

“I think if you add Julio to this roster…I think we’re talking playoffs for the Patriots,” added Schrager. “And we might be talking even more than that. They might be in that same conversation with the Chiefs and the Bills like they were two years ago.”

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While noting that the Chiefs and the Bills both have better quarterback situations than the Patriots, Schrager’s co-analyst James Palmer said adding Julio Jones would benefit whichever quarterback is under center for Bill Belichick’s squad.

“If you get Julio Jones, you might potentially get a different Cam Newton,” he said, pointing out that Newton hasn’t had an elite outside receiver to throw to since an aging Steve Smith Sr. departed Carolina in 2013. Newton then formed a lethal duo with tight end Greg Olsen — Olsen went to three consecutive Pro Bowls while Newton won NFL MVP in 2015.

What’s more, Jones reportedly has stated a desire to play with Newton — respect cultivated from competing against him yearly when the two players were NFC South foes.

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But Palmer insists adding Julio Jones wouldn’t just be with Newton in mind.

“At the same time, I look at what Julio Jones could maybe do for Mac Jones as well,” he said. “If he ends up being the starter, what’s better than great tight end play and a big-bodied wide receiver on the outside?”

Palmer maintains that the question mark is how to maximize Julio Jones’s abilities with better quarterback play than what Newton gave the Patriots last year.

“Good Morning Football” co-host Shaun O’Hara doesn’t think New England will get that elevated level of performance from the 11-year veteran.

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“If Cam Newton’s your starter Week 1, I don’t know that that’s the answer,” he said. “I look back at Cam last year, he struggled throwing at the football.”

While acknowledging some of Newton’s struggles in an abbreviated offseason and his recovery from COVID-19, O’Hara specifically pointed out some of Newton’s sub-100-yard passing games as reasons for apprehension about pairing him with a deep threat like Jones.

“You go back to the Buffalo game in Week 15, he was 5-for-10 for 30 yards,” he explained. “If you’re Julio Jones, and that is going to be possibly your starting quarterback and that’s what you’re going to have to try to figure out — ‘I’m wide open, and I’ve got a quarterback that can’t get me the football’ — that’s where the frustration would start to set in.”

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Would Mac Jones — also a former Alabama Crimson Tide star like the Falcons receiver he might be throwing to — be the better option at quarterback? O’Hara didn’t venture a guess. The younger Jones, after all, hasn’t even thrown on pads with the Patriots yet or taken a snap against an NFL defense.

But the panel’s moderator, Kay Adams, suggested New England might be more than equipped to be a playoff team in the AFC with or without Jones — and regardless of whether Newton or Jones plays.

“This team was 7-9 with a banged-up Cam Newton — first year, COVID, all of that,” she said. “It’s not like they were far from playoff contention even in last year’s struggles…I think whether it’s Mac Jones or Cam Newton out there, whether Julio Jones is out there or not, this is definitely a playoff team and a contender. Are they elite AFC? We’ll see if they return there.”

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