Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley deserved to make the Pro Bowl in 2020. But from a salary cap perspective, it’s best that he didn’t.
Earlier this week the NFL set the 2021 salary cap at $182.5 million and also determined the cost of picking up fifth-year options on 2018 first-round picks.
By virtue of the fact that he failed to make the Pro Bowl in any of his first three seasons, Ridley falls into tier 3 in the above-referenced salary chart, so he will earn $11,116,000 in 2022 if the Falcons pick up his fifth-year option. If he had received Pro Bowl honors in 2020, he would be scheduled to earn $14,340,000, a difference of almost $3.25 million.
Of course, Ridley had his best season to date in 2020, catching 90 passes for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns. Over his first three years in the league he has totaled 217 receptions for 3,061 yards and 26 TDs, so picking up his fifth-year option is a no-brainer.
It also seems likely that the Falcons will try to extend Ridley’s contract before his fifth season gets underway. In the meantime, he remains a relative bargain, scheduled to earn $1,966,464 in 2021 with a salary cap hit of $3,468,415 (per overthecap.com).
Will the Falcons Pick Up Hayden Hurst’s Fifth-Year Option?
A more difficult question to answer is whether the Falcons will pick up the fifth-year option on tight end Hayden Hurst, who was selected one spot ahead of Ridley in the 2018 Draft, albeit by the Baltimore Ravens.
Hurst was traded to the Falcons (along with a 2020 fourth-round pick) in exchange for second- and fifth-rounders in 2020. In his first season with Atlanta he caught 56 passes for 571 yards and six touchdowns while playing 70% of the team’s snaps on offense.
Based on the pre-determined fifth-year price tags referenced above, Hurst would cost $5.428 million in 2022 if the Falcons decide to pick up his option. Meanwhile, Hurst is scheduled to earn $1,984,914 in 2021 and will count the same against the salary cap (as Baltimore is responsible for the cap hit related to his signing bonus).
May 3rd is the Deadline for Picking Up 2018 Fifth-Year Options
The Falcons don’t have to make a decision on Hurst—or Ridley—until early May, as the deadline for picking up fifth-year options doesn’t come until two days after the conclusion of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Naturally, draft day decisions could have an impact on Hurst’s future with the team, and it’s certainly possible that Atlanta could use its first-round pick on Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, who is a projected Top 10 pick—perhaps even Top 5.
Meanwhile, on Friday the Falcons announced the signing of tight end Jaeden Graham, an exclusive rights free agent. Graham was originally signed by the Falcons in 2018 as an undrafted free agent out of Yale. He spent his rookie season on the practice squad, but appeared in every game in both 2019 and 2020. He has 12 career receptions for 174 yards and one touchdown.
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