Julio Jones made one of the greatest catches in NFL history, and it's all but forgotten.
With under five minutes remaining in the game and the Falcons up by eight, Jones extended on a Matt Ryan pass that was probably nine feet in the air, toe-tapped as he was falling out of bounds at the opposition's 22, and cradled the ball like a newborn in what should have been a game-clinching catch.
Of course, the Falcons had been leading that game by a score of 28-3, so you probably know what happened next.
That Super Bowl loss still looms like a thundercloud over the Atlanta Falcons franchise, that ever-present sense of what-if. Four years later, Atlanta sits in the pivotal fourth slot in the 2021 NFL draft, with options aplenty. Draft a quarterback to replace Ryan? Draft protection or weaponry for Ryan?
To that, we can now add more intrigue: will the Falcons draft to replace a Julio Jones-shaped hole in their roster?
The Falcons are reportedly taking calls on Jones, whose departure would shake the franchise to its foundations. Peter King, in his Football Morning in America column, suggests that the Falcons could well be listening to inquiries for Jones
"The Falcons don’t really want to trade Julio Jones," King writes. "He’s a franchise legend. But he’s 32, entering his 11th season, coming off a banged-up year with seven games missed due to injury, and the Falcons are in cap jail."
That last part is the key. Jones wouldn't be dealt for 2021 picks, because that would incur a huge cap hit. But if the Falcons waited until the new league year on June 2 to deal Jones, their overall cap hit drops by more than $15 million, and they can split his charge between 2021, at $7.75 million, and 2022, at $15.5 million, when the salary cap will presumably be much larger.
Dealing Jones — whom King believes is now worth a second-round pick, which is kind of sad — would leave a hole in the Falcons offense, which Atlanta could fill by drafting highly touted tight end Kyle Pitts. That, in turn, would leave two quarterbacks open for other needy teams to draft, and would leave Atlanta still in need of a replacement for Ryan in several years.
In short, Jones is now the centerpiece figure on the draft's centerpiece team.
King lists the teams he believes could be interested in Jones: the Patriots, Ravens, Raiders, and Titans. He also wraps his theorizing in a warm blanket of precaution: "To be very clear: I am not reporting the Falcons will trade Jones, or will probably trade Jones," he wrote. "I am saying it would not surprise me if it happened." Still, the fact that a theoretical trade isn't getting laughed off Twitter is a sign that the Falcons are serious about a complete makeover.
If this is the end of Jones' career in Atlanta, then much like the Falcons in the Super Bowl, it'll always be a case of what could have been.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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