FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga.—So, did you hear the one about Julio Jones, Terrell Owens and the patchy yellow grass in the middle of nowhere?
This isn't some set-up to a canned-ham joke. It's actually an accurate description of how Jones spent his first 'holdout' day away from Flowery Branch, as his Falcons teammates launched a three-day mandatory minicamp.
On Tuesday, the club had its full complement of stars, glue guys, role players and precocious rookies on hand during the practice session ... minus the high-profile talents of Jones.
According to this Tweet, Jones (four-year average: 103 catches, 1,679 yards, 6 TDs) was presumably in California or Georgia, working out with the enigmatic Owens, a former All-Pro receiver who won't be attending his own Hall of Fame induction ceremony in two months.
But that's a surreal story for another day.
In the present, Falcons fans may be disheartened by Jones' contract-driven absence, especially since he seemingly had diffused any chatter of holding out a few weeks ago, when talking to TMZ Sports somewhere in Los Angeles.
But alas, the Falcons were obliged to move forward without Jones on Day 1 of a three-day camp; and since it's mandatory, the eight-year receiver could be staring at fines totaling $84,435 ... although it represents less than 1 percent of Jones' base salary for 2018 ($10.5 million).
After practice, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn wouldn't say whether Jones would be subjected to the aforementioned fines.
But then again, there's a reason why these measures are explicitly listed in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. For all the extra time off given to players between January and mid-July, the clubs reflexively expect all under-contract veterans to show up for the mandatory events.
On paper, it seems like a solid tradeoff for the players.
And yet, there are noteworthy holdouts every year.
"I thought (Jones) would be there (at camp), but he was not," Quinn said. "Sometimes, football and business intersect, and that happens a lot (in the NFL)."
Quinn's nice-guy persona often overshadows his politician-like knack for deflecting hard questions. When the media asked about Jones' partnering with the combustible-in-his-day Owens, perhaps they expected something dismissive from Quinn, entering his fourth year as Atlanta's head coach.
Instead, Quinn used a personal experience to exacerbate his stance of stealthily taking the high road.
"Two of the hardest-working athletes I've seen. In my first year coaching in the NFL (with the San Francisco 49ers in 2001), when T.O. was there, one of the more remarkable things I can remember, watching him the way he finished plays. He might take a 6-yard pass and turn it into a 76-yard pass, based on the way that he finished; and that's one of the things which stood out to me, forever."
Quinn then added: "On the physical side (with Owens back in the day), you can see that part easily. But on the 'work ethic' side, we've certainly seen the video of (Jones/T.O.) working out together, and it's nothing less than impressive.
"At (Julio's) position, they're both in a similar body type. Maybe that's not something a 5-foot-9 player could share, compared to a 6-3 player. Julio had a real clear vision of things that he wanted to work on, so I know that's been a big point of emphasis this offseason."
Falcons teammate Mohamed Sanu was similarly stoic about Jones' absence, saying he occasionally texts his fellow receiver, but there haven't been any razzing or harsh words about the holdout.
Simply put, in the short-time-window world of pro athletes, business is business.
"I am never disappointed, as long as the communication with me (or the team) is clear," says Quinn, while referencing the steady stream of dialogue between him and Jones during the offseason.
That's the beauty of a June absence. In the grand scheme, it's inconsequential. There's plenty of time for a player to catch up with his teammates and coaches.
Of course, Quinn and Co. might have a different assessment of Jones' absence ... if it carries over into the first few weeks of August.