It is looking more and more likely that Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley will be playing with a different franchise in 2022. After Ridley announced he was stepping away from football during the 2021 season, an increasing number of reports have linked Ridley with a trade away from Atlanta. If Ridley and the Falcons are set to seek a trade for the former first-round selection, where are his potential destinations among the teams playing in the Divisional Round of the 2022 NFL playoffs?
Calvin Ridley would not come cheap in a trade
Finding fair value for Ridley in a trade will be intriguing. Ridley is set to play on his fifth-year option in 2022. All $11.116 million of his salary is guaranteed. Unless a team trades for him and instantly extends or restructures the deal, that is what he would cost them in terms of cap space.
As we have seen, cap space is flexible to an extent. If a team with limited cap space traded for Ridley, they could simply agree to a new contract with the WR to shift some of that salary into future years. This could be achieved using void years or via a traditional extension.
The void years element is the most likely given Ridley’s absence this season. It would be hard for a team to commit long-term to a player who just took an extended break from the game. Of course, a team could see this as an opportunity to trade for and sign a player long-term while his value is at a low point. Whether Ridley and his agent would be willing to do that is a different question.
If a team was keen to use void years to spread the cap hit, they could get Ridley’s cap number down to around $3 million for 2022 with the addition of five void years. Ridley would still get the same amount of money, and the team would be able to absorb around $8 million of his cap charge in 2023. This opens up several extra potential destinations for Ridley in a trade and also increases the likelihood that the Falcons could get a first- or second-round pick in return for their star WR.
Ridley could be the focal point of the 49ers’ passing attack
The thought of a passing attack containing Ridley, Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle is mouth-watering. Aiyuk and Samuel are not prototypical WR1-style players. We have seen Samuel shift into more of a utility role. Meanwhile, Aiyuk has a major role in San Francisco’s passing game, but not as a regular outside-the-numbers pass catcher.
However, the addition of Ridley would give the 49ers’ passing game that focal point to hinge around. Teams would have to give a great deal of respect on the outside, potentially opening things up inside for the other pass catchers and the backs. The 49ers would need to get creative with cap space. But if they do move on from Jimmy Garoppolo, that would give them the space to add a player like Ridley in 2022.
Could the Packers use Ridley as bait to keep Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay?
It is hard to imagine how Green Bay could realistically add a marquee name from a cap space standpoint. They are projected to be around $40 million over the cap as things stand.
Additionally, they have their own issues to deal with at the receiver position. They are already facing the potential departure of Davante Adams and the ramifications they could have in terms of keeping Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.
Even if Green Bay cannot find a way to keep Adams around, they cannot simply give up on Rodgers. The likely back-to-back MVP has led them to 39 wins in the last three years and a playoff bye week in each of those seasons.
However, if Adams leaves, the Packers will need a pass catcher to keep Rodgers happy. Ridley could be that exact piece. If the Packers can pull off some cap magic and keep Adams around, they could even use void years to roster both Adams and Ridley. That is a scary thought for any NFC defensive coordinator.
Would the Bengals give Joe Burrow even more pass-catching weapons?
Joe Burrow already has Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd at his disposal. However, the Bengals have $55 million in projected cap space and 37 players under contract for next season. They have some areas to take care of, but they can also afford a luxury like Ridley. They don’t need to add the Falcons WR, but with Burrow playing on a rookie contract, Cincinnati has the ability to give him the ultimate offense in terms of firepower.
Adding Ridley might seem like an excessive move, but it would give the Bengals injury insurance. If Chase, Higgins, or Boyd were to get hurt, Ridley would simply step up. It is somewhat of a dream scenario. But with Higgins and Boyd already under contract, it seemed farfetched the Bengals would draft Chase. They did so anyway — so why not go one step further?
Could the Buccaneers find a way to get Ridley in Tampa Bay?
To make this happen, Tampa Bay would likely need the help of another franchise. The Falcons would almost certainly not want to send Ridley straight to a division rival. However, the Buccaneers could do a deal with another team that would acquire Ridley and then trade him to the Buccaneers. It’s an unlikely scenario. But Tampa Bay is in a win-now situation and might just be willing to suggest such a move.
Ridley would make a lot of sense in Tampa Bay. The departure of Antonio Brown and the impending departure of Chris Godwin will leave the Buccaneers needing receivers this offseason. We have also seen Tampa Bay willing to get creative with contracts to build a powerhouse roster around QB Tom Brady. This would certainly mean the Buccaneers would not miss a beat if Godwin did leave this offseason.
The Chiefs might be in the market for another WR this offseason
The Chiefs have talented pass catchers around Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, but there is always room to upgrade. Kansas City appeared to throw its hat in the ring for the signature of Odell Beckham Jr. That demonstrated they are willing to consider a move.
There is a world of difference between signing a free agent and trading for a player with an $11 million salary. But given the Chiefs’ recent moves, they are certainly a team willing to try.
Ridley would be an instant upgrade on Byron Pringle and Mecole Hardman opposite Hill. He would give opposing defenses nightmares as they try to work out how to contain a trio of Hill, Kelce, and Ridley in any given week.