On Atlanta’s big draft risk

It’s not often you see quality teams trade up 21 spots in the first round of the NFL draft, so the Atlanta Falcons are the talk of the league after dealing wayyyy up to take Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones Thursday night.

Mike Holmgren and his Cleveland Browns were on the other side of the trade, and Holmgren himself went as far as to call the deal “amazing.” But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t amazing for the Falcons, too. There’s a chance both sides will benefit greatly from the trade. Here are the specifics:

To Cleveland: 27th overall pick, 59th overall pick, 124th overall pick, first- and fourth-round picks in 2012.
To Atlanta: Sixth overall pick (Jones).

As Tomlinson mentioned this morning, draft grades for the Falcons have been predictably scrambled.

Now, draft grades are as useless as Lindsay Lohan, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s quite a large range of opinions on Atlanta’s big move. So I know what both of you are thinking: What’s the official GLS stance on the team’s bold first-round leap? Well, after deliberating for a few days, I’ve decided that, while it’s impossible to properly get a read on what the future holds for Jones, the Falcons simply gave up too much.

I mean, is Julio freaking Jones really worth two first-round picks, a second-round pick and two fourth-rounders, especially considering that the team already has a No. 1 receiver in Roddy White and is in dire need of improvements on defense?

I’m hesitant to challenge Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith — that duo has a great track record when it comes to the draft and free agency — but I can’t figure how how or why they fell in love with Jones enough to severely handcuff themselves in the early parts of back-to-back drafts.

Last year, Brandon Marshall was dealt to the Dolphins for two second-round picks, and that seemed about right. That’s why it’s so hard to figure out why the Falcons felt it would be appropriate to trade two first-round picks and three other quality picks for a man who has yet to play an NFL game (and wasn’t even the highest-rated wide receiver in his draft class).

A top-flight free agent receiver wouldn’t have been much more expensive than Jones (depending, of course, on what kind of rookie wage scale is included in the next collective bargaining agreement) and wouldn’t have cost the Falcons a solid chunk of two drafts.

I understand that minds like Dimitroff’s and Smith’s see things that you and I don’t, but I’m wondering if the Falcons’ brass simply fell in love with Jones and lost sight of the broader situation. Did a love-drunk front office just lose its bearings amid draft-night chaos? I think it’s possible.

I also think this move could forever be tied to Dimitroff, for better or for worse. If Jones becomes a superstar, he’ll be somewhat lucky and earn the “genius” label monopolized in recent years by his former mentor, Bill Belichick. If Jones becomes good but not great, or anything less than that, Dimitroff will be that fool who gave up the farm and jeopardized an already talented team on what appears to be nothing more than a hunch.

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