According to ESPN’s Matt Bowen (subscription), the Indianapolis Colts are the ‘best team fit’ for one of his Top 10 remaining free agents: Julio Jones:
5. Julio Jones, WR
Best fit: Indianapolis Colts
Jones has missed at least seven games in each of the past two seasons, and the tape tells us that his explosive traits are declining at this stage of his career. But with his physical profile, he can be schemed in Indianapolis’ pass game — which is led by Jones’ former Falcons’ teammate Matt Ryan. Adding a veteran to the Colts’ young wide receiver room could give them a boost in specific game situations.
Michael Pittman II plays a big role in Frank Reich’s offense, and I’m excited to watch the development of rookie wide receiver Alec Pierce, given his vertical ability in the red zone. While Parris Campbell is still in the Colts’ plans despite consistent injury issues, there is a fit here for Jones to pair with Ryan as a rotational target. Throw Jones the three-step quick-game passes and the deep in-breakers that cater to Ryan’s ability to deliver the ball with anticipation and location.
Jones only caught 31 passes last season in Tennessee, but he caught more than 800 balls and 59 touchdowns from Ryan over their 10 seasons together in Atlanta.
For what it’s worth, the Colts are still open to the idea of adding a veteran free wide receiver—although if I were a betting man, I’d say it’s a much more realistic possibility that Indianapolis simply re-signs longtime wideout T.Y. Hilton over bringing in Jones at this time:
“Chris (Ballard), ultimately, will guide that decision on the roster,” head coach Frank Reich recently said regarding potentially still adding a veteran wideout this offseason via the IndyStar’s Joel A. Erickson.
“That’s his role. We’ll talk everything through, we’ll see how these guys do, and then ask: ‘Do we need to add somebody? Do we need to talk about T.Y., if T.Y. is still out there? How does that all play out?”
If Hilton returning isn’t in the cards for the Colts though, signing Jones makes some sense though, as he has great familiarity with starting quarterback Matt Ryan already from their prolific tenure together with the Atlanta Falcons.
Jones is one of the NFL’s top wideouts of his era, as a 2x NFL First-Team All-Pro, 3x NFL Second-Team All-Pro, 7x NFL Pro Bowler, and a member of the NFL 2010s All-Decade team.
He has 879 career receptions for 13,330 receiving yards and 61 touchdown receptions during 145 games (144 starts).
That being said, he’s now 33 years old, and he’s coming off two injury riddled seasons, having failed to go over 800 receiving yards and/or 3 touchdowns receptions in either campaign (2020-21)—with both the Falcons and Tennessee Titans respectively.
As Bowen indicates, his explosive traits are likely on the decline—as is his overall play, as ‘Father Time’ eventually catches up with everyone, even electric wideouts who once entered the league with a 4.39 forty time.
However, at 6’3”, 220 pounds, he fits right in with a ‘Monstar’ physically imposing Colts receiving group that already includes Michael Pittman Jr. (6’4”, 223 pounds), Alec Pierce (6’3”, 213 pounds), Mo Alie-Cox (6’5”, 267 pounds), and Jelani Woods (6’7”, 259 pounds).
Opposite Pittman Jr., Jones would provide veteran insurance along the outside, in case Pierce needs additional developmental time as a rookie—as young wideouts can take a little longer to hit their stride.
He also provides another big wideout to serve as a strong perimeter blocker, which fits right in with the Colts’ ‘Run the Damn Ball’ offensive identity, as well as a red zone target for Ryan.
(*There’s also a potential ‘revenge element’ here against the rival Titans, who Jones lasted just a sole season with before being unceremoniously released earlier this offseason).
My calculated guess is that the Colts want to see what happens with Hilton first and foremost before possibly looking to bring in Jones as a fallback. For what it’s worth, as of a few weeks ago, there was not much reported interest from Indianapolis’ end.
However, the Colts’ wide receiver room is still very much fluid right now, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Colts general manager Chris Ballard looks to imminently add veteran insurance and a mentor to help round out this year’s otherwise really young unit.
The safe bet is still Hilton, but Jones could eventually be in play—depending on what ultimately happens with ‘The Ghost’.