Julio Jones being traded to the Tennessee Titans last offseason left a void at wide receiver the Atlanta Falcons still haven’t filled. The oversight could prove doubly costly if Calvin Ridley is dealt this year or if one or both of Russell Gage and Cordarrelle Patterson leave in free agency.
Dwindling options in the receiver room and limited space under the salary cap mean the Falcons will need to go hunting for help in the 2022 NFL draft. Fortunately, one mock draft writer thinks the franchise can find the boost it needs in the second round.
Ironically, the Falcons can use the pick the Titans sent them for Jones to finally bolster the talent at receiver.
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Alabama Standout Chosen for Falcons, Despite Injury
The Falcons can roll the dice by selecting John Metchie III with the 58th pick, according to ESPN’s Jordan Reid: “Metchie tore his ACL in the SEC title game in December, but he made 96 catches for 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns before the injury. The injury is a big question mark, but when healthy, he is a quick and detailed route runner with strong hands at the catch point. The Falcons could have questions at receiver with Calvin Ridley’ status unknown.”
Betting on a player with a torn ACL being ready for the start of next season is a gamble, but it’s one worth taking for the Falcons. As Reid noted, Metchie has the skills to torch defenses once he’s fully up to speed.
He proved as much at Alabama, where Metchie came on strong down the stretch, per Brennen Rupp of The Packers Wire:
The highlight Rupp captured showcases how effective Metchie is after the catch. His play speed goes into overdrive once he gets the ball in his hands. It’s one reason why he’s been compared to Kansas City Chiefs‘ speedster Tyreek Hill by The Draft Network’s Keith Sanchez.
Atlanta’s passing game needs that kind of burst next season. Especially if the cupboard is picked clean during the next few months.
Ridley Tipped to Leave
Ridley remains the subject of trade speculation after stepping away from football to look after his mental wellbeing during the 2021 season.
Wyche isn’t the only one who thinks Ridley will actively seek pastures new this year. The thought has also been echoed by NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, who rates a trade as “a very strong possibility.”
If Ridley does move on, the Falcons will lose the lone, legitimate game-breaking wideout on the roster. Gage showed flashes in that role late in the season, but he’s a free agent, along with Patterson.
Both have earned the right to test their value in this year’s veteran market. If there’s a queue of buyers, the Falcons will find it difficult to keep both when the team is projected to be $6,611,883 above the cap, according to OverTheCap.com.
There are things general manager Terry Fontenot can do to alleviate the financial restraints. Things like restructuring the lucrative contract owed quarterback Matt Ryan. Or by dealing high-priced defensive tackle Grady Jarrett.
Yet, one of Fontenot’s best moves may simply involve parting ways with Ridley. The 27-year-old is set to earn $11,116,000 in base salary for 2022.
That’s No. 1 receiver money, but the Falcons will find it cheaper to trade Ridley and his contract before drafting a replacement and using any additional funds to retain Patterson or Gage.