With the 2021 NFL draft in the rear view, the future of the Falcons is starting to take shape. Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith clearly said they have no plans to rebuild this team. That is reassuring to some fans, as the team will not have the cap space to be active enough to rebuild in free agency until 2023. While there is still uncertainty surrounding Julio Jones, the Falcons will clearly look to keep his counterpart Calvin Ridley.
Ridley, the team’s first-round pick in 2018, has been an electric complement and consistent red-zone option. In Julio’s absence in 2020, Ridley nearly hit 1,400 receiving yards and was one short of another double-digit touchdown season, proving that he can be the lead option in your passing game.
This move was an easy decision for Fontenot and Smith, with the only question concerning whether they’d try to get a new deal done before the option deadline, so it was no surprise to see when the news dropped that the Falcons would keep Ridley for at least 2022.
Ridley has had a strong connection with quarterback Matt Ryan, has strong hands at the catch, and is one of the most adept route runners in the league. Former general manager Thomas Dimitroff made a rare decision in the first round and drafted purely for value, ignoring potential disasters like defensive lineman Taven Bryan. Ridley surprisingly fell thanks in the draft and Dimitroff thankfully stopped his slide.
Ridley’s fifth-year option, thanks to new playing time guidelines in the new CBA, is $11.1 million for 2022. The Falcons will still be under a cap crunch in 2022, so expect a quality 2021 season to result in some contract negotiations that will push his cap number down early in a long-term deal. For planning purposes, Fontenot likely has 2023 circled on his calendar when the league expects a major jump in cap space due to ballooning television deals.
For the near-term, Ridley should stick in Atlanta with Ryan along with rookie Kyle Pitts. We already know Hayden Hurst will move elsewhere in 2022, and Julio’s future is cloudy due to the issue of fitting his expensive deal under a restricted cap. We hope we’ll get to see the Julio, Ridley and Pitts trio in Atlanta for 2021, given how hard that’s going to be to stop.