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2023 Buccaneers Free Agent Focus: Julio Jones

The Buccaneers face a lengthy list of potential unrestricted free agents in 2023, and once again we are going to take a closer look at the situation for 10 of them, beginning with Julio Jones


Full disclosure: Our annual close-up inspection of some of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' key pending free agents was supposed to start today with Tom Brady. Discussing Brady's future with our without the Buccaneers became a moot point on February 1 when he announced his retirement, stressing this time that it was "for good."

Brady was the headliner on the Buccaneers' list of potential unrestricted free agents, of course. That list is 23 players long (but really only 22 with Brady's retirement) and includes a number of starters in the secondary and along the defensive front. There are seasoned veterans like Lavonte David and Will Gholston on the list, along with 2019 draftees like Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards looking to get their coveted second contracts. Each one represents an important decision the Bucs must make in the coming weeks…though those decisions won't be entirely up to them.

And there are some interesting cases like Julio Jones and Akiem Hicks who have only been a Buccaneer for one season but showed that they could still produce when fully healthy. That latter issue was a more persistent problem for Jones, who battled a Week One injury the entire season but was occasionally a potent addition to the Bucs' three-receiver set when running and cutting near full speed. Jones, of course, has a brilliant NFL resume – more on that below – and may still have another productive chapter in his playing career if the injury misfortune that has followed him the last three years goes away. As such, with Brady off the board, we'll slide Jones into the top of the Free Agent Focus batting order.

The Bucs won't be able to keep all 23 (okay, 22) of those potential free agents, but they will set their priorities and do their best to keep as much proven talent in the building as possible. And so, in the weeks leading up to the start of the new league year, we are going to look at 10 players who are currently poised to become unrestricted free agents in mid-March. This is the full schedule of our 2023 Free Agent Focus rundown:

February 15: WR Julio Jones

February 17: ILB Lavonte David

February 22: OLB Anthony Nelson

February 24: CB Jamel Dean

March 1: S Mike Edwards

March 3: DL Will Gholston

March 8: CB Sean Murphy-Bunting

March 10: DL Akiem Hicks

March 14: S Logan Ryan

March 15: OLB Carl Nassib

This list is subject to change based on potential roster moves in the coming weeks. However, we will begin with a player who has only spent one season with the Buccaneers but could be motivated to stay in town a bit longer.

Player: Julio Jones

Position: Wide Receiver

Age at the Start of the 2023 Season: 34

Experience: Entering 13th NFL season

How Acquired: Signed as an unrestricted free agent, formerly of the Tennessee Titans, on July 27, 2022.

Previous Contract(s): A first-round pick by the Falcons in 2011, Jones played his initial five seasons on his rookie contract. He later signed renegotiated deals with Atlanta in 2015, 2018 and 2019, which took him through the 2021 season. He was traded to the Titans in 2021 and then signed another renegotiated deal in Tennessee.

Rank in Pro Football Focus Top 50 NFL Free Agents for 2023: Not Ranked.

2022 Performance: Jones signed with the Buccaneers just as training camp began and was deemed to have a clean bill of health. He started fast in Week One at Dallas, catching three passes for 69 yards and running two end-arounds for 17 more before halftime. However, he hurt his knee making a key 48-yard catch to set up a field goal just before halftime and was targeted just once in the second half. Still, 86 total yards on 32 snaps was a nice start.

That injury would limit Jones to 10 games and five starts overall. He finished with 24 receptions for 299 yards and two touchdowns, plus five carries for 45 yards. Jones also finished the season strong, once again against the Cowboys, as he racked up seven catches for 74 yards and a touchdown in the Bucs' Wild Card round loss. His biggest play of the season was a 31-yard catch-and-run touchdown against Seattle in the Buccaneers' historic Week 10 win in Munich, as he demonstrated he still has quite a bit of burst and speed.

Career Accomplishments: Jones spent exactly 10 seasons with the Falcons after being drafted sixth overall in 2011. In that decade, he led all NFL players with 12,896 receiving yards, averaging nearly 1,300 per season. He was second in receptions (1,320) in that span only to Antonio Brown (1,326). He earned seven Pro Bowl invitations and two Associated Press first-team All Pro honors along the way and was named to the NFL's All-Decade team for the 2010s.

In 2015, Jones led the NFL with 136 catches and 1,871 yards, both career highs; his reception total remains tied for the fourth most in a single season in NFL history. He scored a career-high 10 touchdowns in 2012 and had at least eight in three other seasons.

Jones was traded to the Titans during the 2021 offseason and spent one year in Tennessee before joining the Buccaneers. In all, he has played in 155 games with 149 starts and has amassed 903 receptions for 13,629 yards and 63 touchdowns. He has averaged 15.1 yards per catch and 9.7 yards per target in his career while putting up 87.9 receiving yards per game. He ranks 16th in NFL history in receiving yards and would crack the top 10 with just 717 more. He is tied for 23rd in league annals with his receptions total.

Other Potential Free Agent Wide Receivers: Jakobi Meyers (Patriots), JuJu Smith-Schuster (Chiefs), DJ Chark (Lions), Allen Lazard (Packers), Jarvis Landry (Saints), Deonte Harty (Saints), Marvin Jones (Jaguars), Olamide Zaccheaus (Falcons), Mecole Hardman (Chiefs), Parris Campbell (Colts), Mack Hollins Raiders), Sterling Shepard (Giants), Nelson Agholor (Patriots)

Top Wide Receiver Prospects in 2023 NFL Draft: Quentin Johnston (TCU), Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State), Jordan Addison (USC), Zay Flowers (Boston College), Nathaniel Dell (Houston), Rome Odunze (Washington), Parker Washington (Penn State), Kayshon Boutte (LSU), Rashee Rice (SMU), Jalin Hyatt (Tennessee), Cedric Tillman (Tennessee), Jonathan Mingo (Ole Miss), Xavier Hutchinson (Iowa State), Josh Downs (North Carolina)

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