Why the Tennessee Titans' failed Julio Jones experiment was worth all the risk | Estes

Gentry Estes
Nashville Tennessean
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Good luck, Julio Jones. Feels like we never knew you, really.

We only saw the latest version.

And it wasn’t the receiver who once dominated for the Atlanta Falcons. That player never appeared for the Tennessee Titans. And so, seemingly inevitably, the 33-year-old future Hall of Famer has been cut unceremoniously in a salary-cap dump after one injury-plagued season in Nashville, our Ben Arthur has confirmed.

The Titans already needed help this offseason at wide receiver. Now they need it even worse. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to argue that this wasn’t the right move, a necessary correction of a miscalculation.

Releasing Jones means saving close to $10 million against the salary cap. That's an easy call. He was making too much money to be as unreliable as he had become. Not in performance but availability.

Jones played in 11 games last season, and he was quite good at times. He caught six passes in the playoff game. Had the Titans kept going, who knows what his impact might have been in critical moments? He'd played in a Super Bowl before.

And defenses still had to worry about what Jones could do.

Trouble was, the Titans had to worry even more about what he could not. He managed his ailing hamstring enough to contribute at times, but it never really healed. It showed all the signs of a chronic injury.

When asked about Jones at the NFL Scouting Combine last month, Titans general manager Jon Robinson spoke highly of Jones’ diligent efforts in trying to play.

But, tellingly, he also said this: “As players, as their careers start to get a little longer and you see some things and you're wondering, 'All right, was that an isolated instance or is this going to be a repetitive thing?' (That) is something that we're talking about internally.”

If it gets to where you’re having to ask that question, you already know the answer.

It’s sad to witness the decline of a once-great player near the end of a career. As last season progressed, it became glaringly obvious that’s exactly what was transpiring.

There’s no joy in any of this, except if you're the Atlanta Falcons.

Yes, Arthur Smith and company pulled one over on his old franchise. The Falcons won last summer’s trade in a rout, and they’ll enjoy a bright, shiny second-round pick in next month’s draft as a reward for selling high at the perfect time.

That said, I’m not going to bash Robinson in hindsight for a bad trade. I believe now, as I did then, that it was an aggressive risk worth taking.

Because the deal wasn’t just about Jones. It was what it said at the time. It sent a message to everyone – and mostly Titans players – that this franchise truly believed it was in a position to contend for a championship. Robinson wasn’t wrong, either. The Titans won 12 games and the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

I’ll not criticize a big swing and miss when the situation called for it.

Just didn’t work out with Jones.

And it wasn’t anyone’s fault other than Father Time. Jones wasn’t a problem or lazy or selfish or anything other than a good fit and teammate. He just couldn’t stay healthy, and he might not be able to stay healthy moving forward. I have doubts that he can. Clearly, so did the Titans in releasing him.

He'd missed games, but worse than that, he missed important snaps without warning. The Titans would be in the red zone or facing a pivotal third down, and you'd look for Jones and see him standing on the sideline. That happened far too often.

Jones' 2021 totals of receptions (31), receiving yards (434), targets (48) and touchdowns (1) were all career lows in a season. Trends were obvious. So was the situation.

With Jones, the Titans couldn’t keep paying to wait for what they couldn’t be certain would ever happen.

Reach Gentry Estes at gestes@tennessean.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes. 

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