Julio Jones’ impact on contenders, Mickelson’s triumph as sports return

We glean insight from NFL executives on Julio Jones’ likely landing spots, the top offensive tackle prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft, the significance of Phil Mickelson’s win and more.

If All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones truly is “done” with the Atlanta Falcons, he’ll have plenty of suitors on the trade market.

Jones reportedly requested a trade from the Atlanta Falcons in recent months, and according to league insiders, there should be a strong market for the 32-year-old hoping to land with a contender.

“New England makes a lot of sense for Julio, for sure,” a long-time NFL personnel executive tells FanSided, on the condition of anonymity as he is not permitted to discuss players on other teams. “But, with Aaron Rodgers back, the Packers could be ideal. You have to keep an eye on Las Vegas, because of Jon Gruden … Or the Rams. They could really use him.”

If the Packers are serious about extending an olive branch to Aaron Rodgers, and wind up prying Jones from the Falcons in exchange for a first-round pick — what an olive branch that would be — it would be among the more dramatic of reversals of fortune in recent memory.

Jones on the receiving end, along with Davante Adams, of passes from the reigning MVP just might be enough to tip the scales in the Packers’ favor in the NFC arms race against the likes of Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Russell Wilson’s Seattle Seahawks, and Matthew Stafford’s Rams among the top tier of Super Bowl contenders.

However, all 31 other teams should at least be calling Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot. After all, Jones has averaged 1,321 yards and five touchdowns the past four seasons.

“He’s still the best receiver in the NFL,” former Jacksonville Jaguars WR Jimmy Smith tells FanSided. “He comes off the ball harder than any receiver in the NFL today.”

Ultimately, whether it is a rebuilding franchise or an organization one or two pieces from hoisting the Lombardi, Jones elevates any team’s chances of contention in 2021 and for at least the next two seasons.

But, whether Atlanta ultimately pays some of Jones’ remaining $38.3 million over the next three seasons to make a trade possible remains to be seen.

If the Falcons acquiesce, and Jones does move on, his new team will be adding a generational talent at a position that is growing increasingly important in the pursuit of championships.

Just ask the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers and Buccaneers, who have shown just how vital dominant perimeter players are to contention. Jones remains arguably the most gifted receiver in an NFL slanted dramatically in favor of the passing game.

So, what will the Falcons do?

“Watch out for the Saints,” the executive says. “They’re in the same division, yes, but if they’re the Falcons’ best offer, you kind of have to consider it.”

America’s next top offensive tackles

A few weeks ago in this space, we discussed Sam Howell, the quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft class who has the chance to be the first player chosen at the position and could see teams with added draft capital jockeying for position to acquire the North Carolina signal caller.

However, as we have seen even with the NFL’s premier passers, a top quarterback will take a team only so far as an offensive line will block them.

Whether it’s, Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Aaron Rodgers, or Russell Wilson that a team is aiming to keep upright by targeting an offensive tackle in the next draft, there are already several prospects with the talent and pedigree to rise to the top of teams’ boards.

During an appearance last week on FanSided’s The Matt Lombardo Show podcast, offensive line guru Duke Manyweather singled out three tackles that could be the class of the 2022 class; Ole Miss’ Nick Broeker, Kentucky’s Darian Kinnard, and Evan Neal.

Broeker, 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds, was named a 247Sports True Freshman All-American in 2019, and should see an expanded role in 2021.

“He’s a really good player,” Manyweather says of Broeker. “I think that his overall athleticism, what he brings can be pretty unique and pretty special.”

Kinnard is widely viewed as one of the premier returning offensive linemen in the nation, heading into this season, after producing a run-blocking grade of 91.9 from Pro Football Focus in 2020, and boasting the highest zone-blocking grade since 2019.

“He’s really good player,” Manyweather says.

Meanwhile, the crème de la crème of the incoming tackle class might be Neal.

“He started at left guard for the Crimson Tide as a true freshman, Manyweather points out. “Kicked over to right tackle in the National Championship Year, this past year. He’ll move to left tackle this year. He’s a big SOB. He’s physical. Moves really well. Bends really well, especially for being 6-foot-7 and 345.”

If teams such as the Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Giants — all boasting multiple first-round picks in the 2022 draft see marked improvement from Tagovailoa, Hurts, and Daniel Jones, these three tackles could be names to watch as those franchises aim to protect their investments at quarterback and have the draft capital to land the best available tackle to do it.


“It’s never been about the draft pick, picking Jordan [Love],” Rodgers said. “I love Jordan. He’s a great kid. Lot of fun to work together. I love the coaching staff, love my teammates. Love the fan base in Green Bay. Incredible 16 years. It’s just kind of about a philosophy, you know? And maybe forgetting that it is about the people that make the thing go.

“It’s about character. It’s about culture. It’s about doing things the right way. A lot of this was put in motion last year. The wrench was just kind of thrown into it when I won the MVP and played the way I played last year. So this is just kind of I think the spill out of all that. But look, man, it is about the people, and that’s the most important thing. Green Bay has always been about the people, from Curly Lambeau being owner and founder to the ’60s with Lombardi and Bart Starr and all those incredible names to the ’90s teams with Coach Holmgren and Favre-y and the Minister of Defense to the run that we’ve been on. It’s about the people.”

– Aaron Rodgers, to ESPN’s Kenny Mayne on root of dysfunction with the Green Bay Packers (via Pro Football Talk)

Rodgers certainly doesn’t sound like a person who is open to working it out with the people who make the decisions for the Green Bay Packers —  GM Brian Gutekunst and CEO Mark Murphy.

At 37, the Packers have no reason to trade Rodgers if their aspirations are to try to win it all. Under the new regime, Green Bay is 26-6 with a pair of trips to the NFC Championship Game. However, the foundation of the Packers’ recent run of success is Rodgers’ success.

Rodgers saw what Tom Brady was able to do in his first year in Tampa Bay, playing for a head coach and organization who structured the entire program around him. It seems Rodgers is making a strong pitch towards the highest bidder, rather than showing any interest whatsoever in mending fences with Green Bay.

If that’s the case, Gutenkunst could walk away a big winner in Titletown if he asks for and is able to net a king’s ransom in return.


 Final Thought

On the same coastline that hosted the “War by the Shore,” and the “Roar by the shore,” we saw history made on Sunday with “The lore by the shore,” as a 50-year-old Phil Mickelson became the oldest professional golfer to win a Major Championship.

Watching Mickelson stare down four-time major champion Brooks Koepka and hole out from sandy areas, make putts practically from North Carolina, and then all but crowd surf up a raucous 18th fairway to a coronation as a six-time major winner was among the more historic achievements in golf this century.

Sunday also felt like the return of sports as we remember them, pre-COVID-19.

Hours prior to Mickelson and Koepka teeing off as the final pairing in Sunday’s PGA Championship, 688 miles north of Kiawah Island at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, 11,000 76ers fans created the kind of home court advantage fans in the City of Brotherly Love have come to be known for.

Later, after Mickelson hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy aloft as a conquering champion, New York showed that the COVID-19 pandemic can be conquered safely, as well.

Sunday night, the Knicks welcomed 15,000 fans to Madison Square Garden. The Knickerbockers offered a blueprint for how to best protect society moving forward; full and jubilant sections for fans who have done the right thing to protect themselves, their family, and the most vulnerable among us by getting vaccinated … and socially distant seating on the opposite end of the arena for those who have chosen not to get the vaccine.

Mickelson’s victory was a legacy-elevating performance on one of the grandest stages his sport has to offer. Now up, Mickelson has the chance to complete the career grand slam, and become the oldest to ever do it, when the U.S. Open returns to his hometown at Torrey Pines next month.

More importantly, though … in the far grander scheme of things, sports themselves are charging back.

In Philadelphia, the Phillies will welcome full capacity crowds to Citizens Bank Park, beginning June 12. The New York Giants and Jets announced Monday that MetLife Stadium would host full crowds when the NFL season begins this September.

If Sunday’s theater on the shores of the Atlantic, the cradle of liberty, and in the heart of the Big Apple are any indication of what’s to come, get ready for the elation of victory and the agony of defeat to return to American lexicon, tenfold after what we’ve all experienced and collectively fought through.

I, for one, can’t wait to experience all of it.

Matt Lombardo is FanSided’s National NFL Insider and writes Between The Hash Marks each Wednesday. Email Matt: Matt.Lombardo@FanSided.com, Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattLombardoNFL

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