By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — Julio Jones will report to training camp with the Atlanta Falcons, the team said late Wednesday after reaching an agreement to renegotiate the star receiver’s contract next year.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff announced the compromise about 16 hours ahead of Thursday’s 4 p.m. reporting deadline, removing a major distraction hanging over a team that is again expected to be one of the top contenders in the NFC.
“We have had continued dialogue all offseason with Julio and his representation,” Dimitroff said. “We have come to an agreement with Julio, and we will readdress everything in 2019. I appreciate everyone’s hard work and communication on this.”
The Falcons had informed Jones several weeks ago that they wouldn’t be able to renegotiate his current $71.5 million package, which still has three years remaining and included $47 million in guaranteed money.
Jones, who makes an average of $14.25 million a year, was unhappy with his deal after a flurry of new contracts during the offseason dropped Jones down the list of the NFL’s highest-paid receivers.
Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans , Cleveland’s Jarvis Landry and Kansas City’s Sammy Watkins are among those now making more per year than Jones, a two-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler who caught 88 passes for 1,444 yards last season.
Jones skipped offseason workouts at the team’s training facility as well as a mandatory minicamp to demonstrate his unhappiness. His next option was to hold out during training camp, which could have led to fines of $40,000 per day.
Neither side wanted to go down a path that could’ve damaged what has otherwise been a good relationship. So, it looks as though Jones will get a new deal in 2019 — not as soon as he would’ve liked, but a year earlier than the Falcons would normally agree to renegotiate a long-term contract.
Atlanta is eager to pair Jones with another former Alabama receiver, Calvin Ridley, who was this year’s first-round pick. The team hopes that Ridley, as he develops, can help to lure coverages away from Jones, who is often blanketed by two or three defenders.
The Falcons said salary cap limitations prevented them from discussing a new deal with Jones in 2018 . The team already agreed to a five-year, $150 million extension with quarterback Matt Ryan, the most lucrative deal in NFL history, and is now focused on working out new contracts for defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, offensive guard Jake Matthews and safety Ricardo Allen.
“This adjustment does not impede us from working on other extensions with other key members of our football team,” Dimitroff said. “We will continue to work on those contracts going forward.”
Jones hasn’t talked with the Atlanta media in months, keeping a low profile during the contract brouhaha. In one of his rare public appearances, he told TMZ that he has a good relationship with the franchise that pulled off a blockbuster trade with Cleveland to make him a first-round pick in 2011.
“I’m just working on getting myself better,” he said. “There’s no bad blood between me and the team or anything like that.”
Jones hasn’t been totally estranged from his teammates during the offseason. This month, he took part in Ryan’s private passing camp in California along with about a dozen of his teammates.
All throughout the contract talks, Jones remained in the good graces of coach Dan Quinn.
“Sometimes football and business intersect,” Quinn said after Jones skipped the three-day minicamp. “That’s OK and that happens a lot.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry
For more AP NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL