The Falcons could find themselves in the same situation this offseason as they did last spring when Terry Fontenot was forced to trade Julio Jones after the long-time Falcon requested out of Atlanta. This offseason, it could be Calvin Ridley, who has been the talk of the town in recent months.
Steve Wyche said that he thinks Ridley’s future with the Falcons is in jeopardy. Mike Garafolo of NFL Network said he believes the Falcons trading Ridley is a very strong possibility. Most recently, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN stated the “market would be robust” for Ridley; “Atlanta is cash-strapped and needs pieces along the offensive line, so they could use the draft capital,” an NFC scout told Fowler.
Neither party — the Falcons or Ridley — has commented on the situation, so there are no indications the former All-Pro will be suiting up in any other uniform other than a Falcons one. Terry Fontenot avoided answering questions pertaining to Ridley’s future in his end of the year press conference. Still, there were no leaks before Jones was traded, and I imagine if Ridley is traded, it will be the same MO.
If the Falcons do end up parting ways with Ridley, there has to be a contingency plan at the receiver position. As it stands, the Falcons only have three wideouts under contract in 2022 — Ridley, Frank Darby, and Austin Trammel. Without Ridley, the outlook looks grim.
Regardless of Ridley’s status, the Falcons have to bolster the position. Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, and Tajae Sharpe are all candidates to be brought back on new deals, but even still, Atlanta needs more. And there are potential solutions in free agency and the draft.
Jake Gordon has already given Falcons fans a reference point for free agency with his Big Board. Here are just a few options of the 15 total free agents he believes make sense for Atlanta:
10. Will Fuller — Miami Dolphins
Probably the biggest wild card on this list, Fuller has battled injuries and suspension after a monster 2020 season. He has had issues staying healthy, and he only made it to Week 4 of a prove-it deal in 2021 before being placed on IR. The talent is there, but there’s a lot of risk that comes with Fuller. If the price is right, I’d be willing to roll the dice.
9. JuJu Smith-Schuster — Pittsburgh Steelers
Smith-Schuster is a really polarizing player, and personally, I could leave him off this list without any issues. However, even though he has shown he isn’t a true first option, he can still be effective, and the Falcons need all of the help they can get. Maybe just lay off the Tik Toks.
7. Rashard Higgins — Cleveland Browns
This is where we’re getting into guys I really like for Atlanta. Higgins saw an increased role after the Browns moved on from Odell Beckham Jr., and I think he’s worth giving a deal to as a 27-year-old who can be a piece now and going forward. Maybe he could become a solid second or third receiver in an increased role, and I don’t think he would break Atlanta’s bank.
2. DJ Chark — Jacksonville Jaguars
While he fell into a decreased role in Jacksonville in 2021, Chark was electric in 2019, putting up 1,008 yards and eight scores. He’s a true playmaker on the perimeter at 6’4, and the Falcons would finally have an X Receiver to help replace what Julio Jones gave them on the outside. Plus, Chark shouldn’t cost too much.
1. Allen Lazard — Green Bay Packers
I think Lazard makes the most sense for the Falcons for multiple reasons. For starters, he caught eight touchdowns this year and can make big catches in the red zone. At 6’5, he averaged 12.8 yards per catch, which means he can go get balls and make plays stretching the field. He’s a solid blocker, and I don’t think he would cost Atlanta an arm and a leg. Regardless of what Atlanta does at receiver this offseason, Lazard should be high on their free agent list.
The Falcons could also mitigate the potential loss of Calvin Ridley through the NFL draft, and this receiver draft class is loaded. Drake London caught 88 passes for 1,084 and seven touchdowns over only eight games. He’s got a massive frame — 6-foot-5, 210-pounds — and impressive contested catch ability. Treylon Burks is similarly built as London — 6-foot-3, 225-pounds — but is faster with more production, finishing the season with 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns.
David Bell is another option, whose run-after-catch ability could intrigue Fontenot and Arthur Smith. He totaled 93 catches for 1,275 yards and six scores, but what is most impressive is the 25 forced tackles Bell accumulated. Wan’Dale Robinson is a superstar playmaker who finished the 2021 season breaking 20 tackles and gaining 1,172 yards on just 94 catches.
I didn’t even mention the likes of Jameson Williams, Garret Wilson, Chris Olave, Jahan Dotson, John Metchie, Justyn Ross, Skyy Moore, and George Pickens. This class is loaded, and regardless of Ridley’s outcome, the Falcons would be wise to grab a couple of these prospects to give Matt Ryan more weapons to maximize his final years.