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Time to panic? Julio Jones is skipping Falcons' minicamp

As has become custom in the NFL, the offseason has had no shortage of stories. But one that’s flown under the radar, at least for fans of the league at large, is the situation between the Atlanta Falcons and star receiver Julio Jones.

The Falcons’ mandatory minicamp begins on Tuesday, and on Monday, Atlanta released a statement from general manager Thomas Dimitroff saying that Jones won’t be there.

‘We have much respect for him’

Jones has stayed away from the Falcons all offseason, but everything before this week has been voluntary. Minicamp is mandatory, and teams can fine players who opt to miss it.

Time to pay up? Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones is skipping this week’s manditory mini-camp; he reportedly wants a change to his contract. (AP)

“We have been in contact with Julio and his representation. We will not discuss those conversations publicly except to say we feel they have been productive and constructive,” Dimitroff said. “We understand the concerns and thoughts from their perspective.  Although not ideal, Julio informed us today he would not be attending minicamp.

“We have much respect for him and what he means to our team, our city and our fans.”

Per the collective bargaining agreement, Atlanta can fine Jones $84,435 for missing minicamp.

The sixth overall pick in 2011, Jones is a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first- or second-team All-Pro who has totaled 1,400 receiving yards or more in each of the last four years. Jones is just the seventh receiver in NFL history to record four seasons over 1,400 career yards, and only the second to do it in four consecutive seasons; Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison also topped that number every year from 1999-2002.

Is money the issue?

By all accounts, Jones is looking for either a bump in pay or a contract extension, though an extension seems unlikely as he has three years left on his current pact.

Jones and the Falcons agreed to a five-year, $71.26 million contract in 2016 that included a $12 million signing bonus and $47 million guaranteed. He is set to have a base salary of $10.5 million for 2018.

But since signing that deal, several receivers who aren’t as productive as Jones have signed fatter deals. Jones’ annual average is $14.251 million; among those who have deals that average out to more per year are the Chiefs’ Sammy Watkins ($16 million AAV), the Browns’ Jarvis Landry ($15.1 million AAV), and the Bengals’ A.J. Green ($15 million AAV).

Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown is the league’s highest-paid receiver by AAV; his contract pays him $17 million annually.

Jones saying little, as usual

Jones hasn’t been seen much since the 2017 season ended, though he did take part in Cam Newton’s charity kickball event on June 1. Jones declined to speak to media that day.

The 29-year-old has generally been one of the NFL’s quieter superstars, but one of his close friends, former teammate Roddy White, wasn’t afraid to speak up for his friend in a recent interview with ESPN’s Vaughn McClure.

“It’s a tough situation, especially for him because he just signed a deal three years ago,” White said. “But the numbers would tell you he’s way, way, way outplayed being paid the amount of money that they’ve given him.

“A lot of times, you don’t want to rub people the wrong way. On the other hand, when people look at the numbers and start stacking them up against people that are making more money than him, then it verifies that he should be paid a lot more money. Yes, he deserves to be the highest-paid [receiver]. I think he does, based on performance. For me, that’s a no-brainer.”

Whether the Falcons agree enough to alter Jones’ contract remains to be seen.

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