The Colts finally found their man at quarterback on Monday, bringing in former Falcons’ star Matt Ryan. Could this help lure Julio Jones to Indianapolis?
It was a long week for the Colts’ faithful. Much like the Squidward meme, fans could only watch as other franchises frolicked around, adding talent and dishing out huge contracts. The Yannick Ngakoue trade was a bigger move than it got credit for, but ultimately he doesn’t play quarterback so it was overshadowed amid all the questions surrounding the position.
Seven days after the tampering period opened up, the Colts were successful in persuading Atlanta to part ways with their franchise player. Matt Ryan is eighth all time in passing yards (59,735) and — with a good season in 2022 — will be knocking on the door of the top five. Similarly, he boasts an incredible 367 touchdown passes in his career, good for ninth all-time. Simply put, he passes the numbers test with flying colors.
Now that Chris Ballard (and potential free agents) know who the quarterback is in Indianapolis, things should ramp up a little bit during this second wave of free agency. A name that immediately jumps out is the former go-to target of Matt Ryan — wide receiver Julio Jones.
After adding Matt Ryan, the Colts should look to bring in his former teammate — Julio Jones.
Before the Falcons traded up to select Julio Jones in the 2011 NFL Draft, Matt Ryan posted a meager completion percentage of 60.8% in his first three seasons in the league. In 10 seasons with Jones, Ryan raised it an astonishing 5.7%. It wasn’t just a one-way street though, the former Crimson Tide wide receiver benefitted greatly from the free throwing quarterback.
Much like his former teammate, Jones finds himself 17th all time in receiving yards, and could jump into the top-ten with a bounce back season. He also lands at 25th all time in career receptions. The duo is one of the best in the history of the sport and stats aren’t the only thing that support it.
They led the franchise to four playoff berths, highlighted by the 2016 season that saw Matt Ryan win regular season MVP. Julio played a big part in the quarterbacks’ success that season, hauling in 83 catches for 1409 yards and six touchdowns. As everyone knows, they came up just short of their goal to bring a Super Bowl to Atlanta.
All good things come to an end, and that end for the Ryan-Julio connection came in the 2020 offseason. The Falcons traded Julio to the Tennessee Titans for two picks — a fourth-round pick in 2021, and a second-round pick in 2022. After an injury-riddled 2021 season that saw him only appear in ten games, the Titans cut bait and began looking for an upgrade elsewhere at the position, leaving his future uncertain.
So, are they both washed? Did they both take a step back because they’re old, or was it because of the split? Is Jones damaged goods now? Is he going to still want top dollar on a potential contract? These are all fair questions. Allow me to try and give some answers that you’ll be pleased with.
First off, it’s awfully hasty to say that either of them are washed based solely off of the 2021 season. The fact that Matt Ryan was the only quarterback that Julio Jones has ever played for in the NFL undoubtedly played a part. You can’t fake the type of chemistry that comes after catching footballs from the same guy for a decade.
As far as the durability concerns with Jones, those carry a lot more weight. As stated before, he was never quite right last season. It dates even farther back though, because the former All-Pro wide receiver has only appeared in a total of 19 games over the past two calendar years. Only four times in his career was he able to play in a full 16 games.
The next thing: what’s it going to cost to bring him in? That one is a lot harder to nail down right now. Without knowing exactly what Jones is thinking, it remains to be seen if he wants to get the biggest contract possible or if he wants to go somewhere with a chance to win. If the latter proves to be the case, expect the Colts to be heavily interested.
Aside from the obvious connection to Matt Ryan, Julio Jones would not have to be a number one guy like prior years. He can come in and be a perfect foil to Michael Pittman Jr., while giving the youngster a mentor that he’s always looked up to. It would be bad business to leave Pittman hung out to dry next season, giving opposing teams the ability to double him often.
A few veteran options on the market that make sense for the Colts, even if they sign Julio: TY Hilton, Emmanuel Sanders, Cole Beasley, Jarvis Landry, and Jamison Crowder. The team also still has a couple day-two picks, so they should take advantage of a deep wide receiver class there as well.
My gut says Michael Pittman-Julio Jones-TY Hilton-Parris Campbell-A Rookie is what the depth chart will look like week one. No player on the roster — outside of Pittman — had over 400 receiving yards in 2021. That is unacceptable and should change if they can add a healthy Jones, Campbell, and rookie to the mix.
Ideally, Jones will be interested in a one- or two-year deal with heavy incentives. If he wants to win, the Colts give him the option to do so. Not only that, it gives him a chance to show the Titans what they missed out on by cutting him. A reunion in the blue and white makes a lot of sense for Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.