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Exclusive: Falcons owner Arthur Blank says Julio Jones will be in Atlanta 'forever'

A two-time All-Pro, Jones has been absent from team workouts this week, sparking rumors of him demanding a new or 'updated' contract before training camp.

ATLANTA—Falcons owner Arthur Blank was a little busy hosting 31 other NFL owners and league commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday, but he did take time out to address receiver Julio Jones' absence from the Organized Team Activities (OTA) workouts in Flowery Branch.

"It'll be fine. It'll be fine. It's the process we have to go through. It'll be fine," Blank told reporters from The Whitley hotel in Buckhead.

However, for his impromptu, one-one-one chat with 11Alive Sports' Alex Glaze, Blank was more effusive and concrete about Jones' status.

"I love Julio. He loves me. He loves Atlanta. He's going to be here forever," says Blank, the Falcons' majority owner since February 2002.

Regarding Jones' supposed demand for a new or 'updated' contract, Blank kept it simple: "We'll talk to him directly about that, and that's between us and him. We've always treated our players respectively, competitively and done whatever we have to do to make a winning team on the field."

Jones' OTA no-show has sparked numerous debates in Atlanta over the last five days. As such, various theories have been posited, regarding the Alabama product's true motivation for skipping routine spring workouts, despite having three years left on a contract extension which reset the receivers' market back in 2015:

a) Does Jones seek an adjustment on the current contract extension (five years, $71.2 million ... expires after the 2020 season)?

b) Is Jones angling for a trade leading up to training camp? This would be an extremely rare occurrence.

Excluding the infamous Terrell Owens debacle from 2005, which prompted the Eagles to suspend and then later release their embattled star, the last game-changing receiver to be dealt right before training camp was John Jefferson in 1981—going from the high-octane Chargers to the pass-happy Packers.

c) Or is Jones happy with his contract and the Falcons, but simply wants a mental and physical break from football, leading up to next month's mandatory mini-camp (June 12-14)?

It's worth noting: Unlike OTA work, automatic fines are doled out to players with unexcused absences from the mandatory mini-camps.

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn somewhat embraced the 'Julio' talk on Tuesday, articulating his thoughts during the opening statement to the media.

"I know the subject of Julio Jones has been on a lot of people's minds. Just want everyone to know that Julio and I speak regularly," says Quinn, entering his fourth season as Falcons coach (29-19 overall, one NFC title). "We were aware that he wasn't going to be present at the beginning of the offseason workouts. I was also aware that (Jones) wasn't going to be here (Monday—first day of OTAs).

"He's in great shape. He's spent some time in the offseason working on things (that couldn't be handled in previous years) because of injuries."

Regarding the OTA workouts, which run through early June, Quinn doesn't anticipate Jones showing up for the parceled practices, which on Tuesday, included work on third downs, the two-minute drill and end-of-game situations.

"I do expect him to be here, certainly by (the June 12-14) mini-camp, the end of the offseason program. That's where I'm at."

As for the speculation that quarterback Matt Ryan—who recently signed the largest deal in NFL history—and Jones have met for private workouts in the last three months, perhaps Alabama or suburban Atlanta, Quinn offered a coy response..

"I know of the work (Jones) is putting in," said Quinn, with a smile.

The 29-year-old Jones, a two-time All-Pro, has averaged 103 receptions, 161 targets, 1,579 yards and six touchdowns over the last four seasons (2014-17). On the flip side, Jones posted only three TDs last year for Atlanta.

Jones' big extension from a few years ago still includes base salaries of $10.5 million (2018), $12.5 million (2019) and $11.4 million (2020) over the next three campaigns.

The source of Jones' dissatisfaction might involve the recent mega-contracts handed out to Jarvis Landry (Browns: five years, $75 million) and Mike Evans (Buccaneers: five years, $82.5 million).

The way things are progressing, Jones most likely won't make any public comments until the Falcons' mandatory mini-camp next month.

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