#11 Julio Jones

The Falcons have one of the best receivers in the NFL, but will he get paid like one?

Julio Jones is a star. There is no doubting that. What is in doubt, at least right now, is his long-term future in a Falcons uniform.

Most believe the Falcons will work out a long-term contract with Jones. The recent deals of Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant likely work as the framework for a deal for Jones. All three are elite receivers, and you could split hairs trying to debate which one is the best.

The Falcons gave up so much for the right to pick Jones that it’s almost mandatory to keep him for the long term. They made an investment in him that day they made the huge trade, and to lose him now would be a colossal mistake for a franchise that cannot afford such gaffes.

The only question on Jones is his health. He’s battled different issues in his four years in the NFL, but when he is healthy, he’s the most dangerous player on the field. Last season’s 1,593 yards in 15 games proved that.

The team has already invested in quarterback Matt Ryan, and this is Ryan’s main weapon. Why have Ryan and not have his best receiver? Plus, Roddy White, the best receiver in franchise history, is 33 years old. He’s still productive, but just how many years does White have left? He’s now more of a complimentary receiver compared to the go-to guy he was for many seasons.

That makes investing in Jones even more critical. Jones is just 26 years old, and if he stays healthy, with his talent and athleticism, he should have six or seven strong seasons left in him. Jones has Hall of Fame potential – again, if he stays healthy. And that’s why he wants to get paid as a star player.

With the Falcons in a transition season with the new head coach, the offense must remain the focal point. The Ryan-to-Jones combo is so important to the team’s success. Jones is a star, and there is no reason to think he won’t continue in an Atlanta uniform. But the quicker the team gets the deal done, the better.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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