NFL Staff Writer Predicts Colts to Sign Two-Time All-Pro

Frank Reich

Getty ESPN's Bill Barnwell predicts head coach Frank Reich and the Indianapolis Colts will sign a two-time All-Pro wide receiver.

The Indianapolis Colts have been connected to multiple free agent wide receivers this offseason. But instead of signing free agent pass catchers, the Colts drafted two tight ends and a wide receiver.

Still, there could be room on the roster for a veteran wideout. At least that’s what NFL staff writer Bill Barnwell of ESPN writes.

On May 12, Barnwell predicted the Colts to sign two-time All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones.

“A deal with the Colts would give Jones a chance to spend time both on the outside and in the slot, given that Parris Campbell has struggled to stay healthy and second-round pick Alec Pierce may need some time to adjust to the league,” Barnwell wrote. “It would also get Jones back inside a dome for his home games and reunite the seven-time Pro Bowler with his longtime quarterback, Matt Ryan.”

The Atlanta Falcons traded Jones, who played 10 years in Atlanta, to the Tennessee Titans last offseason. With the Titans, Jones posted 31 catches for 434 yards and one touchdown.

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Injury Concerns Around Julio Jones

The big question mark around the 33-year-old receiver is how healthy will he be this season. He’s missed 14 games over the last two years.

That fact, combined with the Colts adding pass catchers through the draft, appears to make Indianapolis signing Jones unlikely. Then again, the only reason the Colts have the opportunity to sign Jones is because he’s been injury prone lately.

Barnwell argued that when healthy, Jones has still remained productive.

“Jones was still playing like a star in 2019 and was productive when healthy in 2020, so I think it’s a little too early to suggest that his career as a useful wideout is over,” Barnwell wrote. “Jones averaged 2.7 yards per route run in 2020, which ranked right in line with stars like Stefon Diggs and DeAndre Hopkins, albeit over only a half-season of work.”

Barnwell also proposed the Colts sign Jones and play him both outside and in the slot. He argued Jones, who has primarily played as an outside receiver during his career, could benefit from moving into the slot as Larry Fitzgerald did in his mid-thirties.

It’s not clear if Jones would be willing to undergo that kind of transition.

In 2020, Jones’ yards per game average dropped slightly but his catch percentage and yards per target average increased to new career bests during the nine games he played. During 2020, he also posted his highest yards per reception average since 2017.

But playing with a new team and quarterback during 2021, even when healthy, Jones did not produce as normal. His 43.4 yards per game last season set a new career low by a long shot.

Reconnecting Julio Jones With Matt Ryan

The Colts do have one advantage that adding Jones would give them but not other teams. Indianapolis signing Jones means rejoining him with Matt Ryan.

Ryan and Jones were a lethal tandem over a decade in Atlanta. Jones made seven Pro Bowl teams and the All-Pro team in 2015 and 2016. Ryan posted 10 straight 4,000-yard passing seasons and won NFL MVP in 2016 with Jones as his top target.

Giving Ryan a familiar target to work with as he acclimates to a new system and young receivers is not at all a bad idea.

Even still, Jones may need to make financial concessions to land in Indianapolis. Colts general manager Chris Ballard is very prudent and probably won’t overpay for an aging, recently injury-prone wideout.

Barnwell estimated Jones to be worth a one-year $5-6 million deal. Spotrac reports the Colts possess about $13.675 million in salary cap space remaining. So a $6 million deal fits nicely within their budget.

The question becomes whether Jones, who has been paid as an elite receiver his entire career, is willing to play on a smaller, one-year contract.

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