Calvin Ridley hasn't played football since before Halloween, and it's possible he won't play for the Falcons again. Or at least that's according to NFL Media's Steve Wyche, who speculated on 92.9 The Game in Atlanta that the All-Pro wide receiver "could be looking for a fresh start" in 2022. Ridley announced in October he'd be stepping away from the NFL indefinitely due to mental health reasons, and he's yet to return to the Falcons, ending the 2021 season having just played five games.
According to NFL Media's Mike Garafolo, the Falcons say Ridley's situation hasn't changed, but they are hopeful he will return in 2022. However, Garafolo said it doesn't seem like there has been much communication between team and player.
Ridley, 27, remains under contract with Atlanta through 2022. But if he looks to relocate from a Falcons team that is still rebuilding, or if the cap-strapped Falcons seek to save the $11.1 million remaining on his deal, the former first-round pick would surely draw a market. If he returns and performs up to par, he could easily command as much as $20 million per year on a future extension, but at a reasonable 2022 salary with No. 1 WR talent, he'd likely net Atlanta at least a first-rounder.
Which teams would be first in line to make a deal? Here are the logical suitors:
General manager Chris Ballard isn't gonna be dying to give up draft picks a year after trading several for Carson Wentz, but Wentz could also use another downfield weapon, especially with T.Y. Hilton on the way out. They've also got plenty of cap space ($40.7M).
Cleveland has bigger issues to address than WR -- namely, Baker Mayfield's standing at QB and Kevin Stefanski's approach as head coach. But Jarvis Landry is a potential cap casualty, and the Browns are lacking consistent pop out wide. If they want to remain in the hunt, Ridley would offer the big-play talent that Odell Beckham Jr. was supposed to.
Money is a hurdle, as they're projected to be over the 2022 salary cap. But they've sniffed around veteran wideouts for a while, and they could add a bunch of money by saying goodbye to Jimmy Garoppolo. Imagine them giving Trey Lance a top WR trio of Calvin Ridley, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk going into the young QB's first full year as a starter.
This may or may not be contingent on Derek Carr returning to ensure they're still trying to win sooner rather than later (or, alternatively, a big splash for Russell Wilson, etc.). But Ridley would fit in perfectly as a big-play complement to Hunter Renfrow, Bryan Edwards and Co. They've got close to $30M to spend.
Ridley might not be eager to jump from Atlanta to a bigger rebuild in Jacksonville, but the Jaguars can pay, with over $50M to spend. They also offer the sunny Florida setting in which Ridley grew up. And they desperately need longer-term weapons for QB Trevor Lawrence.
No one loves a big-name castoff quite like Bill Belichick, who spent big in 2020 to rebuild the WR spot and also has an affinity for Alabama products. Now that Mac Jones has proven he belongs at QB, New England could justify a more lucrative swing, with $19M in projected cap space.
No matter who's at head coach and general manager, they badly need weapons for young QB Justin Fields. They've got four wideouts, including a battered Allen Robinson, set to hit free agency. And they've got $28 million to spend. Nothing would electrify their 2022 prospects more than pairing Fields with a home-run threat out wide.
They might be spending big to upgrade at QB, but with almost $61M in projected cap space, they can afford multiple splashes. With four wideouts hitting free agency, Jaylen Waddle could use another running mate. And Ridley has hometown ties, having been born and raised within an hour of Miami.
General manager Howie Roseman is as eager to trade as anyone, especially when the target is a potential long-term weapon. Better yet, Philly is on the verge of contending, and Ridley played with both QB Jalen Hurts and fellow WR DeVonta Smith at Alabama. The Eagles are also loaded with draft capital.