TAMPA, Fla. — Julio Jones said he never imagined joining forces with a longtime NFC South division rival in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and playing with Tom Brady.
But that’s where life has taken Jones on his quest to win a championship — one of the few prizes that has eluded the the future Hall of Fame wide receiver who spent last season with the Tennessee Titans after a decade with the Atlanta Falcons.
“I didn’t, I didn’t think that,” Jones said Wednesday. “But that’s the past. I’m here now. I’m looking forward, I’m not looking backwards. It’s a great opportunity for me to be a part of something special in the Buccaneer family. Just looking forward to getting to work.”
Jones acknowledged the irony of joining forces with Brady. The quarterback led the Patriots’ historic comeback from a 28-3 deficit to defeat the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, which was Jones’ only Super Bowl appearance.
But Jones, a seven-time Pro Bowler who has twice led the league in receiving yards, said he wanted the best opportunity to win a ring.
“Why we got to bring up old stuff? He did it. He did it. He did it,” Jones joked before conveying his excitement. “It’s just a surreal moment. It’s amazing. I’m ready to go, though. At the end of the day, it’s all about accountability. I have to be accountable for him, the team, everybody, right? With all that said and done, I’ve still got to come to work. I still have to put the work in.
“You can say, ‘Oh yeah, Julio’s with the Bucs, we got Mike [Evans], we got Tom,’ but we’ve all got to put the work in. Nobody’s going to give us anything. So we’ve just got to come out here and work each and every day. That’s all it’s about.”
As Brady has done with several free agent pickups, including Jones’ former Falcons teammate Russell Gage and most recently tight end Kyle Rudolph, he phoned Jones and expressed his desire for them to play together after Jones was released by the Titans in March.
Jones joked with Brady, “Y’all got space down there?'” But they stayed in touch.
“I talked to him, I talked to Tom several times. It wasn’t really about coming to Tampa. We were just communicating, feeling each other out, I guess. It was probably a tactic,” he joked, alluding to the Patriots’ and Brady’s penchant for operating in secrecy. “But I’m here now.”
He added: “Tom’s a great guy, man — who you want to be leading your ballclub, who you want to play for.”
Jones said he is “100% healthy” and “feels amazing” with no lingering issues or pain. He emphasized he doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone and isn’t here to step on any toes — a nod to an already crowded receiver room that includes Evans and fellow Pro Bowler Chris Godwin, who is coming back from an ACL injury, and Gage.
In fact, the camaraderie of the Bucs receivers and the way Evans and Godwin have carried themselves off the field played a big role in bringing Jones to Tampa.
Jones saw action in 10 regular-season games and one postseason game with the Titans last year. His 434 receiving yards in the regular season were the lowest of his career, as was his lone touchdown catch, but he struggled with a hamstring injury nearly the entire season. Jones also contributed six catches for 62 receiving yards in the Titans’ 19-16 loss in the divisional round of the playoffs.
“For me, I’m never frustrated. It’s all about learning curves, right? So I always learn through everything I go through in life, because I control me,” Jones said. “I control my emotions. I control everything. I don’t let someone else control who I am or how I view things.
“People might say, ‘OK, you wasn’t successful in this.’ But for me, I know what success is for me. I can’t let someone else judge who Julio is. But I did have some nicks and knacks here and there. I never look backwards. It’s all about the present. And for me right now, I feel great, I feel amazing. I’ve just got to stay that way. … Just come out here and be who I am — I don’t need to be anybody else but that.”
In an interview with WDAE Radio, Jones said that the Bucs were in the picture all along, adding that he also thought about playing with the Packers and Aaron Rodgers. The Colts and Saints also were interested, but Jones wanted the best opportunity to win a championship.
“He’s still a good football player,” Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles said. “We’ve got to replace Gronk’s catches. We’ve got an extra weapon, especially in the red zone, out in the open field, we’ll put him to use. It gives us a chance to be more creative in some of the things we do. We’re happy to have him.”