The Jacksonville Jaguars were willing to trade two draft picks for Calvin Ridley and wait because of what the wide receiver offers the NFL team.
With the NFL trade deadline approaching on Tuesday afternoon, the Jaguars made a complicated deal with the Atlanta Falcons for the former Alabama standout even though he cannot play for Jacksonville this season and when he might be able to is unknown.
The NFL suspended Ridley indefinitely on March 7 for betting on NFL games, an infraction of league rules that can be punished by “a fine, termination of employee and/or banishment from the NFL for life.” The earliest that Ridley can apply for reinstatement is Feb. 15, and the league will reconsider his case to decide if and when he will return.
The Jaguars traded a fifth-round choice in the 2023 NFL Draft and a fourth-round choice in the 2024 NFL Draft to obtain Ridley, but those picks could change depend on the wide receiver’s return date and how he performs once he gets back on the field. The 2023 pick could slide back to a sixth-rounder and the 2024 choice could upgrade to a second- or third-rounder.
In his most recent full season, Ridley had 90 receptions for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020.
Jacksonville used the first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but it has had only one player exceed Ridley’s 2020 receiving yardage in this century – Allen Robinson, who had 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns on 80 receptions in 2015.
Over the previous 16 seasons, Jacksonville has had three 1,000-yard receivers, with DJ Chark’s 1,008 yards in 2019 the most recent.
Robinson plays for the Los Angeles Rams and Chark plays for the Detroit Lions now.
“We’re going to always look to add talent to this roster any way possible, any shape or form,” Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said on Wednesday. “And I feel like we’ve done that. Obviously, we won’t know what we have until the league clears him and all of that, and we understand that. At the same time, we feel like we’re getting a really good football player and adding to a good room. Great leaders in that room that will embrace him when he finally gets here. …
“I think he adds to the guys we have. I think we just made that room stronger, quite honestly. We’re speculating, obviously. A year from now or whatever, we’re excited to have the player when we do get him and welcome him in here when we get a chance to do that.”
Because of league rules, Pederson said he had not talked to Ridley.
“We can’t right now,” Pederson said. “Just got to be off-limits right now until he gets reinstated by the league.”
After losing its past five games, Jacksonville has a 2-6 record this season.
Wide receiver Christian Kirk, Jacksonville’s leading receiver this season, came aboard in free agency 10 days after Ridley was suspended. Kirk is averaging 62.3 receiving yards per game, which ranks 23rd in the NFL.
Kirk has 35 receptions for 498 yards and four touchdowns in 2022. The other wide receivers who have caught passes for Jacksonville this season have combined for four TD receptions. Zay Jones, Marvin Jones, Jamal Agnew and Tim Jones have totaled 65 receptions for 679 yards.
“We are excited to welcome Calvin Ridley to our organization and the Duval community,” Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement released when Jacksonville announced the trade. “This is an opportunity to add a proven playmaker to our already talented wide-receiver room as we continue to build our roster for 2023 and beyond. We are looking forward to finishing strong this season and integrating Calvin into our program at the appropriate time.”
Atlanta’s top wide receiver last season, Russell Gage, had 66 receptions for 770 yards and four touchdowns and plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers now. The Falcons’ top wide receiver in 2022, rookie Drake London, has 30 receptions for 346 yards and two touchdowns in eight games.
“As our team continues its growth, we continue our daily focus on improving our roster and believe this move is the best decision to make at this time,” Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said in a statement released when Atlanta announced the trade. “We appreciate Calvin’s contributions to the organization and wish him well on his next steps.”
Ridley has not played since Oct. 24, 2021.
After missing the Falcons’ game on Oct. 31, 2021, Ridley issued a statement that read: “These past few weeks have been very challenging, and as much as I’d like to be on the field competing with my teammates, I need to step away from football at this time and focus on my mental wellbeing. This will help me be the best version of myself now and in the future. I want to thank my teammates, the entire Atlanta Falcons organization, our great fans, my friends and my family for all of their support during this time.”
The NFL said Ridley placed the bets that led to his suspension over a five-day period in late November, when he was on the non-football injury/illness list and away from the Falcons.
After the 2021 season, Ridley appeared to be a potential trade candidate for the Falcons, who sent Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts two weeks after Ridley’s suspension was announced. Reports at the time indicated trade suitors were told of Ridley’s impending suspension before it was announced and dropped their interest.
On Tuesday, Atlanta also traded defensive back Dean Marlowe to the Buffalo Bills for a 2023 seventh-round pick and obtained defensive back Rashad Fenton from the Kansas City Chiefs for a 2023 seventh-round pick.
“These discussions have been going on for a long time,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said on Wednesday when asked about the Ridley trade. “Everything we do here, we understand there’s a lot of parties involved in it. There’s cause-and-effect and a tough business. We always do what’s in the best interest of the team and in regards to the players as well. …
“The NFL, the way it works, discussions are always ongoing. … Some of those are long-term discussions, and they get expediated by the trade deadline. Like with Dean and Rashad, those happen when people call around. Those are more the opportunity right there at the deadline.”
Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.