Unless you've had your phone on do not disturb for the last 24 hours, you know what happened on Monday. If you somehow don't, here's a quick refresher:
Calvin Ridley has been suspended indefinitely, at least through the 2022 season, for violating the NFL's gambling policy, the league announced on Monday afternoon. The league stated that Ridley bet on NFL games in the 2021 season, during a five-day stretch in late Nov. 2021, when he was away from the team on the reserve non-football illness list.
The Falcons picked up Ridley’s fifth-year option prior to the 2021 season. He was carrying a cap hit of $11.1 million in 2022. That money will toll until Ridley is reinstated by the league. This means Ridley's cap hit will come off the books for the Falcons in 2022. Prior to this news, the Falcons were $7 million over the 2022 salary cap, per OverTheCap.com. Now, OverTheCap is reporting the Falcons have $3.375 in cap space one week before the start of the league year.
With a wide receiver room that has been stripped to the bones of what this room once was two years ago, the Falcons have a number of decisions to make regarding where the position goes from here. Scott, Kris and I dive into this topic in this week's Question of the Week installment.
From the Falcons perspective, how does this news change the outlook of the 2022 offseason? And honestly, the regular season to follow?
Tori: There are two schools of thought here, in my opinion. First, there's the idea that this really doesn't change the Falcons outlook much at all. They got much-needed cap relief, and they were already looking at bringing in wide receivers to help fill out the room with or without Ridley on the 2022 active roster. They want to bring in those YAC bros we've discussed on the podcast and in the roundtable before. So, that's the first thought.
The second, however, is: Oh my goodness, it's a tough break for the Falcons to not have the draft capital that would have come with a potential trade for Ridley. And not having that changes what the Falcons have to prioritize in the draft. Even without Ridley playing for much of the 2021 season he was still very valuable as a trade candidate for a Falcons team that needs draft capital. I think it's possible the Falcons could have gotten a second round pick for Ridley. Even with the cap relief, not having an extra pick? It's a hard pill to swallow.
Kris: Based on many reports, it seemed that the Falcons were prepared to move forward without Calvin Ridley regardless. From that perspective, this situation does not change much.
However, if the Falcons did move Ridley, they would have likely been compensated with a high pick or high-impact player. Or the Falcons could have been moving forward by retaining Ridley, who is one of the best receivers in the league.
This now means that the Falcons will have to move forward by rebuilding their entire wide receiver room without Ridley and the compensation they may have gotten for him. For the offseason, I think this means the Falcons will likely think much harder about a receiver at No. 8, trading back up into the first round to grab a receiver in the first round or using those second-round picks for receivers. As for the regular 2022 season, the Falcons have arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL; rebuilding that group will be vital in freeing up players like Kyle Pitts, and the Falcons run game in the future.
Scott: Often lost in all the Ridley talk, before or after Monday's news, is that he's a top-tier football who ranks among the best route runners in the NFL and someone I consider capable of being a true No. 1 receiver.
Those traits are either valuable as an on-field producer or as a trade asset. As Tori and Kris said, losing that trade compensation hurts the Falcons in 2022 and maybe beyond, because it's hard to imagine they'd get the same return in 2023 than they would've this year after Monday's revelations.
The Falcons need as many swings at the draft as they can get, especially when they have to remake the receiver room and their edge rushers, where just Ade Ogundeji is the only impact player left in that position group. That's a lot of work, in addition to other needs. That means the Falcons will have fewer opportunities to acquire players. That's never a good thing for a team in some transition.
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What does this news mean for someone like Russell Gage?
Tori: I think this probably means a lot for bringing Gage back. I don't think his market value is going to be very high, so I do think the Falcons could re-sign him for a good price. In the exact same breath, though, I think this Ridley news actually means more for bringing back Cordarrelle Patterson than it does Gage. I am sure the Falcons have an interest in bringing Gage back, especially now that Ridley is out and there is no WR1 in Atlanta. The wide receiver room is… thin, after all. However, I would argue Patterson and Kyle Pitts were more integral to the Falcons offensive operation than Gage. Gage's production can be replicated by a number of other players that - I think - could be cheaper if Gage's market value is too high. I wouldn't be shocked, however, if the Falcons do see value in bringing him back.
Kris: Gage finished with 66 catches for 770 yards and four touchdowns through 14 games last season. He was a reliable third-down target and made multiple highlight-worthy grabs throughout the year. Even with his production in 2021, I think the Falcons might feel that they could find players through free agency or the draft to replicate Gage's output.
On the other hand, there is the importance of Gage's impact beyond the field. He led a young wide receiving core this year after Ridley stepped away from football, and a year in Arthur Smith and Dave Ragone's system might be something that the organization values. Gage could help other receivers who are brought in with adjusting to the playbook, team, and even the city, which the Falcons might value..
Scott: I'm more of an advocate for bringing Russell Gage back than I was before, and I always thought it was a good idea if his market value didn't shoot the moon. His familiarity with the scheme could help an otherwise new crop of receivers adjust, and his proficiency as a third down target is attractive as Matt Ryan adjusts to new guys.
If you could bring Gage back and add another quality veteran for Ridley's 2021 salary, that would be a win. And, now, playing devil's advocate against myself, this offers an opportunity for Fontenot and Smith to remake the receiver corps from scratch, with talents they're looking for as scheme fits. If Gage doesn't fit that mold, then obviously don't do it.
In light of this news, how high are you drafting a wide receiver (if at all) if you're Terry Fontenot and Co.?
Tori: I am all over the board on this question. I could see the Falcons taking a wide receiver as early as the first round. I know I saw The Athletic's Dane Brugler writing that even though he has the Falcons taking Kyle Hamilton with the No. 8 pick in his third mock draft, he could see Ohio State's Garrett Wilson making a lot of sense for the Falcons at this spot, too. I don't know if I am ready to pull the trigger on drafting a wide receiver in the first round, though. I still like the idea of going after a cornerback or edge rusher in the first. The Falcons have two second round picks. I could see using one of those for a receiver, or even a third rounder. I think free agency plays a role in this as well. Can the Falcons find WR1 on the open market? If they can, perhaps drafting a wide receiver isn't as high on the priority list as we think.
Kris: I'm not drafting a receiver at No. 8. I think drafting an edge rusher should be the priority, and then best available if a player like Cincinnati cornerback Sauce Gardner or if Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton is there. However, I could see a situation where the Falcons use their draft capital to move up into the first round and select a talented receiver late.
I would wait until the second round to grab a receiver. My pick would be George Pickens from the University of Georgia. I already loved Pickens' SEC-freshman-of-the-year-winning game, but I loved his attitude at the combine. "I like to talk trash, but I also like to show it," Pickens said. "... I feel like if you have that, you gon' put fear in a lotta people."
Having a guy like that on your team is important, and his game matches the talk.
Scott: This doesn't change the best player available mentality, no matter what the mock drafts – including mine next week (wink, wink) – may say. The Falcons must add good players wherever possible, and I think there will be better options at No. 8 than even the top receiver. Go for that and address receiver later on, mining from a class with plenty of explosive talents.
In a trade down, however, Treylon Burks looks pretty darn good. He's a YAC bro, for sure, and you could get him later, maybe the late teens or No. 20 in a deal with QB-starved Pittsburgh? if you can bail out of the eighth pick and get a nice return.