If you cold-called Stefon Diggs two years ago, he probably would have told you he was sick of the Minnesota Vikings run-first offense and skipped practice because Kirk Cousins wasn’t getting him the ball. Odell Beckhamm Jr. probably would express uncertainty about Baker Mayfield. Allen Robinson might have asked what the Chicago Bears’ plans were until they drafted Justin Fields.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Julio Jones was candid when Shannon Sharpe dialed him up out of the blue and asked him about his situation with the Atlanta Falcons. “I’m out of there,” he said. “I want to win.” Pressed on if he wanted to go to the Dallas Cowboys, given he was wearing a sweatshirt with their insignia on it, he said, “Nah, I ain’t going to Dallas. I never thought I was going to Dallas.”
Besides the obvious question of if Jones knew he was on-air at the time — the producer cut in to suggest that Sharpe let him know that they were live on FS1, and Sharpe told him they were on TV after Jones had revealed that he wanted out of Atlanta — we learned something from the exchange. The Jones rumors aren’t just a matter of the Falcons front office taking calls to gauge the value of their 32-year-old receiver. He wants out, and he isn’t pushing to play in Jerry World.
There is always a bit of a shock factor when an athlete is that forthcoming. Diggs didn’t just come out and say he was upset with the offense when he skipped practice. Justin Jefferson was caught telling Cousins to throw him the ball in an empty stadium, but he never said it out loud at the podium. But nobody should be blown away that Jones wants to move on from a team that has a 36-year-old quarterback and had the No. 4 pick this year.
The more significant revelation is he doesn’t have his heart set on Dallas. Nobody would have blamed him if he wanted to play on a team that constantly gets national media exposure. But if he’s genuinely about winning, the Minnesota Vikings should be in play. Yes, it gets cold here. Yes, Mike Zimmer is still going to run Dalvin Cook into the ground. And yes, it’s gonna be Cousins under center.
But only in Minnesota would Jones play with two top-10 receivers.
In their final receiver rankings, Pro Football Focus put Jefferson at No. 2 behind Davante Adams and Thielen at No. 6. Only the Tennessee Titans had two receivers ranked in the top 10: A.J. Brown (3) and Corey Davis (8). And for how much was made of Tom Brady’s weapons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ top receiver was Antonio Brown at 11. Jones was No. 9.
If the Vikings aren’t throwing the ball with three of the best 10 receivers in the league on their roster, then we’ve got a problem.
We got a window into Jones’ mind, and the Vikings have to make a concerted effort to get him. Rick Spielman and Zimmer are in contract years. Thielen is on the wrong side of 30. They’ve made significant moves in the offseason to bolster the defense and used the draft to solidify the offensive line.
It’s understandable if you have trepidation about trading for Jones. The Vikings burned their second-round pick last year when they realized Danielle Hunter’s injury was more than a tweak and traded for Yannick Ngakoue. Then, when they went 1-5 to start the season and realized Ngokoue couldn’t consistently pressure the quarterback, they flipped him to the Baltimore Ravens during the bye week for a third-rounder.
But the league has changed, and dealing for Jones might be the catalyst to modernize the offense. They’d have to pass to him more often, and that would mean more three-receiver sets. Even if he doesn’t become Cousins’ go-to receiver and starts to play like a receiver on the wrong side of 30, more passing plays could mean more opportunities for Jefferson, Thielen, and Irv Smith Jr — a pass-catching tight end who is due for a breakout season.
Look, some of these guys don’t even need to get a surprise call to say what they’re thinking. Adams told Colin Cowherd recently that “it would change a lot” if Aaron Rodgers forced his way out of Green Bay. “It doesn’t mean I’d be gone,” Adams, a pending free agent, said, “but I’d definitely have to do some extra thinking if my guy wasn’t here.”
Jefferson told Cowherd that Joe Burrow had more swagger than Cousins and tipped his hand that the team was looking to move on from their maligned quarterback. “We have to build on for after Kirk or whatever the case may be,” he said when asked about the rumors that the Vikings were interested in trading up for Fields before the Bears moved up to get him. “Having Justin Fields brings a little bit more pressure to other teams by having a dominant quarterback like he is.”
However, Jones is prioritizing winning above all else, which should be enticing to Spielman and the front office. Trust me, none of us would have to cold-call Jefferson or Thielen to find out if they want to line up next to Jones.