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Julio Jones says status for Falcons camp was never in doubt

July 27, 2018
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Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones walks off the field following an NFL football training camp practice in Flowery Branch, Ga., Friday, July 27, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Julio Jones insists his status for training camp was never in doubt.

Jones, the five-time Pro Bowl receiver, was back for the start of Falcons training camp Friday after missing a mandatory minicamp in June while asking that his contract be reworked.

Jones dismissed reports he wouldn’t report without a new deal as “he said, she said” speculation.

“We knew all along we were going to get it handled,” he said.

For coach Dan Quinn, the most important fact was seeing No. 11 catching passes from Matt Ryan.

“It was awesome to have him back,” said Quinn, adding Jones’ routes were “really sharp and clean.”

Jones drew cheers from fans when he caught a pass on the sideline in front of cornerback Desmond Trufant late in the practice.

General manager Thomas Dimitroff said Thursday the team made an “adjustment” to Jones’ five-year, $71.5 million contract. Jones is entering the third year of the deal.

Dimitroff said the tweak to Jones’ deal wouldn’t affect the team’s hopes to negotiate contract extensions for left tackle Jake Matthews, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, and safety Ricardo Allen. On Friday, the team agreed to a five-year, $75 million extension for Matthews.

The biggest new deal of all came earlier in the offseason — a five-year, $150 million extension for Ryan, the most lucrative contract in NFL history.

Ryan’s contract, and the team’s talks with Matthews, Jarrett and Allen, were among the reasons Dimitroff said the Falcons couldn’t renegotiate Jones’ contract until after the season.

Jones confirmed he told Quinn this month he would report to training camp.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank said at the NFL owners meeting in May he expected Jones to play his entire career with Atlanta.

“Our relationship has always been excellent so I had the confident in Thomas and the confidence in J.J. being a great Falcon for us not only on the field but off the field and a leader in the locker room,” Blank said Friday.

Jones said he and Blank “reiterated what he had told us — that I’m going to be a Falcon forever.”

Asked if it was difficult to be away from the team for the mandatory minicamp and other offseason work, Jones said he told Quinn “It was just me getting healthy as far as some stuff with me, getting back right and feeling 100 percent.”

A healthy Jones is especially important to the Falcons’ hopes of returning to their offensive form of their 2016 Super Bowl season, when they led the league in scoring.

One year ago, Jones was recovering from minor offseason surgery on his left foot and was limited in the first training camp with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkasian.

Jones didn’t miss a game last season despite having two ankle injuries — plus back, ribs, thumb and knee injuries.

Jones, who also participated in an informal passing camp led by Ryan in California this month, has no injury concerns.

“For me and for the team it’s better than I’m healthy and can do everything,” he said.

Quinn said wide receiver Russell Gage used advice from Jones to fine-tune a route at the California camp.

“Those were the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet that often speak to who he is as a teammate,” said Quinn of Jones.

It’s not unusual for Jones to be included on Atlanta’s game-week injury reports, but he has missed only three games the last four seasons. He has broken his right foot twice, at the NFL combine in 2011 and in 2013 when he missed 11 games.

Jones has remained one of the NFL’s most productive receivers. He had 88 catches for 1,444 yards and three touchdowns in 2017. Jones and Marvin Harrison are the only players in NFL history to have at least 80 catches for at least 1,400 yards in four straight seasons

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