The most interesting, and the most mysterious, trade at the deadline was one that came out of left field—Atlanta dealing wide receiver Calvin Ridley to Jacksonville. For a player who was a top-15 wide receiver in football in 2020 to be traded in 2022 for only one certain low-round pick is bizarre. Ridley is currently on a one-year suspension for gambling on NFL games and can apply for reinstatement after the postseason.
This is what we know:
Jacksonville GM Trent Baalke is a risk-taker anyway, and it’s understandable why he had been trying to acquire Ridley since last June. Even though Jacksonville takes on Ridley’s full $11.1-million compensation in 2023, Baalke didn’t saddle the team with a prohibitive draft giveaway. Ian Rapoport had some good details on the compensation, and per Rapoport plus a league source, here are most of the terms of the deal:
2023: Jacksonville will send its sixth-round pick to Atlanta if Ridley is not reinstated by the NFL at some point before the draft. If he is reinstated—which is no sure thing—Atlanta will receive Jacksonville’s fifth-round pick in the ’23 draft.
2024: If Ridley is on the Jaguars’ 53-man roster when final cuts are made at the end of the 2023 preseason, Atlanta would receive at least Jacksonville’s fourth-round pick in ’24. If he reaches certain play-time and performance markers, that pick would increase to a third-rounder. And if Ridley signs a new contract with the Jaguars at some unspecified time before the ’24 draft, the pick would rise to a second-rounder in ’24.
So the risk for the Jags is if Ridley is a total washout and doesn’t play there, they’re on the hook for relatively little compared to the upside. Ridley is a player the Jaguars need for Trevor Lawrence—a very good outside-the-numbers receiver who, though he’ll turn 29 in 2023, would be a strong addition to a building team. That is, if he’s in a good frame of mind, and if the NFL reinstates him.
As to why Atlanta would let loose a receiver in his prime who caught 90 balls for 1,374 yards in 2020, it’s unclear. Part of the reason could well be that Ridley—drafted by Thomas Dimitroff in the first round in 2018, coached by Dan Quinn and Raheem Morris, with Matt Ryan as his quarterback—has zero of those who drafted, coached, nurtured, and threw to him remaining in Atlanta. If he came back to the team in 2023 post-suspension, he’d be coming back to a new quarterback (either Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder), playing alongside a new franchise receiver (Drake London). He’d played only five largely unimpressive games for new coach Arthur Smith in 2021 before his mental health pause. Had he returned to the Falcons in 2023, life, and football, would never have been the same, and the Falcons likely weren’t pleased about the prospect of committing significant money to Ridley.
Also, Ridley did not appeal his year’s suspension by the NFL for betting on football, handed down last March. That seems odd. According to SportsHandle.com, Ridley, after saying on Oct. 31, 2021 that he was stepping away from football to focus on his mental health, made six bets totaling $3,900 that included the Falcons to win, and two $100 bets on other NFL games. That’s a breach of a clear NFL policy that says players can’t gamble on NFL games.
But at the time, the NFL was called hypocritical because it was in bed with gambling companies, and respected former players like Emmanuel Acho and Torrey Smith were highly critical of the ban. Very often, players appeal suspensions, particularly lengthy ones, and get some relief. It figures that Ridley would have at least had a chance to cut some weeks off the suspension. But he didn’t try. What does that mean? Maybe nothing. Maybe not.
In the end, Jacksonville took a shot on a player at the top of his game just two years ago, and if he plays well, the cost will be well worth it. Atlanta traded a player it apparently had lost faith in, saved $11 million, and could recoup second- and fifth-round picks if Ridley rekindles his career. Seems like a strange, but good, trade for both teams. We’re not going to know the real result for well over a year.
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column