Falcons Get Significant Salary Cap Boost Following Calvin Ridley’s Suspension

Calvin Ridley

Getty Calvin Ridley's suspension has inadvertently provided the Falcons with temporary cap relief.

The Atlanta Falcons wouldn’t have wanted it this way, but Calvin Ridley’s indefinite suspension from the NFL, which will take in at least the 2022 season, has provided a significant boost to the team’s salary cap situation.

Ridley, whose suspension for violating the league’s gambling policy was made official on Monday, March 7, would’ve counted for $11.116 million this year, per OverTheCap.com. Now, Ridley’s cap hit will come off the books for at least this year and only return to the Falcons’ docket if and when Ridley is reinstated.

It means a franchise that lacked the funds to make major moves this offseason now has the means to accelerate the rebuilding process in free agency and the draft.

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Falcons Suddenly Under the Cap

Ridley’s infraction and subsequent punishment were reported by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero:

Pelissero also included the league’s statement detailing why NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell decided to take disciplinary action:

One of the key phrases in the statement begins the final paragraph. Specifically, the mention of Ridley not being able to apply for reinstatement before February 15 next year.

It means the Falcons have almost 12 months, at a minimum, of not having to carry the wide receiver’s ample salary. Pelissero provided the details:

As Falcons.com reporters Tori McElhaney and Scott Bair pointed out, Over The Cap had the Falcons projected to be more than $7 million above this year’s total before the news broke.

That’s no longer the case, according to Spotrac:

More space should give general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith opportunities in the short term to improve the roster. Those opportunities can include taking action regarding a few key free agents.

Falcons Have a Better Chance to Keep Key Players

The Falcons now have some room and better chances to bring back key free agents. It could start with middle linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, the NFL’s leading tackler last season.

Oluokun is one of the few members of Atlanta’s front seven defensive coordinator Dean Pees can build around. He’s also somebody sure to garner interest on the market thanks to his ability to quickly bring opponents to the ground, a trait outlined by Jon Marci of Pro Football Focus:

Then there’s running back Cordarrelle Patterson, who revitalized his career with the Falcons in 2021. Now, Patterson is one of the more intriguing players set to test the market, something Fontenot could avoid by perhaps using the franchise tag ahead of Tuesday’s deadline.

Of course, Ridley’s absence could compel Fontenot and Smith to add to a receiver room that already looked threadbare even before the suspension. Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, Tajae Sharpe and Christian Blake are all free agents.

The Falcons can now be players in the receiver market ahead of free agency officially opening on Wednesday, March 16. There’s no shortage of options, including players like Juju Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Chargers’ deep threat Mike Williams.

Both pass-catchers could now be within the Falcons’ means. A new wideout was needed with or without Ridley, who stepped away from football during last season for his mental wellbeing. The uncertainty regarding Ridley’s status fuelled a slew of trade rumors, with the New England Patriots mooted as potential partners in a deal by ESPN’s Bill Barnwell.

A trade is still something the Falcons may be able to consider a year from now, according to McElhaney and Bair: “As for the 2023 season, if Ridley is reinstated at that time, the Falcons would carry his fifth-year option into 2023 and would have the same options as they did this year prior to this news: keep him or trade him.”

Until then, the Falcons are now able to step up their efforts to reinforce a roster with several weaknesses.

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