Julio Jones’ isn’t showing up for the Falcons’ mandatory minicamp from Tuesday through Thursday, which has sent the entire planet into a frenzy.
Jones and the Falcons will be fine, of course. General manager Thomas Dimitroff released a statement on Monday, and even said the conversations between Jones and the team had been productive and constructive. Everything’s cool.
We do this every year. Players ask for more money, bits and pieces of information are relayed to the media while fans and radio hosts panic. But most of the time, the player gets what they ask for and deserve. Why we do this every year despite knowing negotiations are coming is one of the great mysteries of NFL fandom that nobody seems intent on solving.
Jones’ holdout isn’t surprising, we’ve known we were going to get to this point. Twitter started freaking out after Jones purged the Falcons from all of his social media outlets back in April. Later, Matt Ryan got his new deal with the team, which led to more speculation about Jones and his current deal.
Jones is set to make $10.5 million this upcoming season, which would be 12th-most among NFL receivers. He signed a contract three years ago that still has $35 million left on it, but the market for receivers has changed. Jones has had at least 1,400 yards every season for the past four years. Talent-wise, he shouldn’t be the 12th-highest paid receiver in the NFL; he should be among the highest — if not, the highest.
A lot of people will argue that because Jones is making millions of dollars, he should just show up and play. But it’s really not that simple — everybody in any job wants to be paid what they’re worth. Football is Jones’ job, so he should be paid what he’s worth.
Then there’s security.
Jones showing up for three days of minicamp isn’t a smart move for him if he feels he’s worth more. He could suffer a serious injury, which would then make getting a new deal a lot more difficult. So if you’re Jones, you’re playing your cards right, because one wrong play, and everything could change.
Three days of drills are not going to make or break his season. They’re really for evaluating the players who teams aren’t certain about. There’s no extensive schedule of workouts going on immediately after, either. The NFL will go radio silent for a month and change.
Jones is far from the first player to hold out, not even for the Falcons. The team faced a contract dilemma with wide receiver Roddy White in 2009. White eventually got his money and went on to become the team’s all-time leading receiver, a distinction he won’t hold onto much longer if Jones continues apace.
David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Aaron Donald, and other stars are also looking to get money and security this offseason. Salaries in the NFL are going to continue to rise, and in a league where contracts aren’t guaranteed, players have to get their money when they can, and avoid injury when possible.
It’s easy for fans and media to play up a contract dispute. The NFL offseason can get boring, and people need something to talk about. Jones is a superstar player who will go down as one of the best Falcons to ever wear the red and black. If there’s even a sniff of something like a contract dispute, no matter the circumstances between the two sides, people will drench it in gas and attempt to throw a match to it, because that’s a fun thing to do when you’re bored.
But holding out for more money this time of year is essentially scheduled programming. The storylines might be a little bit different — maybe a player won’t have some kind of social media cleanse like Jones did, or they won’t be nearly as cordial as Jones and the Falcons have — but the players have to get their money when they can, whether that’s from their current team, or somewhere else.
We’ll be here next year, because NFL fandom is cyclical. Soon we’ll get to camp and hear how players have lost X-amount of pounds. Later, anticipation will build for that first Hall of Fame game that we tend to forget is actually not good at all. Then we’ll get the rest of the preseason, and then, maybe, if we’re lucky, to actual regular-season football and, of course, Jones on the field.