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Don't Expect Calvin Ridley Back with Atlanta Falcons - And What That Means

The Atlanta Falcons and head coach won't say it, but the tea leaves tell us they don't expect Calvin Ridley to return this season.

"Every time I call it a game, you call it a business. And every time I call it a business, you call it a game." - North Dallas Forty.

Is there a sensitive and responsible way to discuss both Calvin Ridley's mental-health challenges and his employer's related challenges when it comes to on-field performance, roster-building and the salary cap?

The Atlanta Falcons are obliged to find that way.

Ridley, arguably the team's best player, departed the Falcons on Halloween in order to work on his mental health. It was the second time this season Ridley left his team, and a month later, there's no sign of him returning to the squad this season.

It is a safe assumption that his status will not change for the 2021. It would be foolish to assume much else beyond that.

Ridley was eligible to return to the Falcons last week after he had been put on injured reserve, but the team never allowed for any suggestion he might return.

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was asked again on Monday about Ridley's status, and while his words don't expressly say it, a reading of the tea leaves tells us the Falcons aren't expecting him back any time soon.

"Got no update," said Smith. "As soon as we get an update, we'll give you an update."

When pressed if Ridley could return this season, Smith held the line.

"I'm not going to predict anything and take it day-by-day," said Smith "If there's an update, we'll let you guys know."

The fact that Smith stonewalls the questions each week, and the fact it's been radio silence from Ridley since he issued his statement about taking a leave, likely speaks volumes about Ridley's intention and/or emotional ability to return to the Falcons this season.

And again, that is problematic on many levels.

It is not just a cliche to note that the player's health should be prioritized. But it is not a reality to ignore all of the implications.

Ridley turns 27 next week. He has a great deal of football success in front of him, should he choose to pursue that. Meanwhile, the option on his contract has already been picked up by the Falcons for next year. He's due a raise from $1.97 million this year to $11.1 million in 2022, fully-guaranteed.

If he doesn't return to the team in 2022, and his salary still counts against the salary cap (as it would with any injury), the Falcons will have nearly $27 million (13 percent) of their cap space allocated to receivers not playing for them. 

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Julio Jones, traded last offseason to Tennessee, carries a dead-cap number of $15.5 million for the Falcons next season before his contract comes off the books.

Atlanta could not have predicted much of this; paying Jones and Ridley was part of the building of the roster. But now? Maybe the NFL needs to think in a more advanced way on situations like Ridley's; the league should consider providing some relief to teams that lose players under this unfortunate circumstance (as is so unfortunately common, most recently evidenced by the Vikings' Everson Griffen

While Calvin Ridley makes his decisions about the future, and while the Atlanta Falcons make theirs, a thought for the NFL that marries the "business of football'' with the game of life'': An exemption to the salary cap allowing financial relief and allowing teams to replace a player who has left for mental health reasons would help the teams ... and would be helpful in encouraging the player's freedom to seek help as we as aiding his recovery without the anxiety attached to the stigma of walking out on his teammates.

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