The New England Patriots addressed most of their roster deficiencies by spending wildly in free agency last offseason, but one thing they still lack is a true, bona fide, No. 1 receiver.
Could they fill that void by acquiring Calvin Ridley?
Ridley, who had 90 catches for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns for the Atlanta Falcons last season, is a possible trade candidate, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.
The 27-year-old Alabama product took a leave of absence from the Falcons in October to focus on his mental health and did not return to the team. Now that the regular season is over, Garafolo said Saturday that “a trade is a very strong possibility.”
“(The Falcons) still are holding out hope that they will have Calvin Ridley for this upcoming season,” Garafolo said on NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football.” “That said, I’ll try to give you as many facts as I can here, and then I’ll give you my assessment. The facts are there doesn’t sound like there’s been a lot of communication between Ridley’s camp and the team, this according to sources that I have spoken to, and at some point, the Falcons are going to have to get in touch with him, have some conversations with that camp to figure out, if it’s feasible, whether he could come back.
“Now, our colleague here at NFL Network, Steve Wyche, mentioned recently in a radio interview that both sides could be looking for a fresh start at some point. I agree with Wyche on that one. I do believe that a fresh start could be in the cards and may be the best thing for Ridley. It’s not a situation where he has any ill will toward the organization. There’s just some personal things, it sounds like, that’s going on, and maybe a good location for him would be a good thing.
“So my educated prediction right now — this is a prediction; it’s not a report, but it’s educated — is that Calvin Ridley is elsewhere for the 2022 regular season, but we’ll see how it plays out.”
Ridley was on pace for more than 100 catches and just under 1,000 receiving yards before stepping away from the Falcons after five games. If he feels well enough to return in 2022 and the Falcons are willing to deal him, the Patriots would be a logical suitor.
New England — which has a long history of targeting Nick Saban disciples — hosted Ridley for a pre-draft visit in 2018. He wound up going 26th overall to Atlanta, three picks after the Patriots selected offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn.
Ridley is set to make $11.1 million next season on his fifth-year option, so acquiring him could require some financial maneuvering. The Patriots have roughly $21.5 million in projected salary cap space for 2022, according to OverTheCap, and a slew of high-profile players set to hit free agency, including cornerback J.C. Jackson, safety Devin McCourty, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and offensive tackle Trent Brown.
Placing the franchise tag on Jackson — who would be the top cornerback available if he hits the market — would cost the Patriots north of $17 million, so it could be challenging to both keep him and trade for Ridley. It’s also unclear what Atlanta would ask in return for a player of Ridley’s caliber.
The Patriots’ current receiving corps is led by Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor, with tight end Hunter Henry serving as quarterback Mac Jones’ top red-zone weapon. Bourne and Henry, in particular, have been valuable additions, but New England should look to bolster their stable of pass-catchers this offseason.
Ridley overlapped with Jones for one season in Tuscaloosa but never played with the rookie QB, as that was Jones’ redshirt year.
Before they worry about potential roster improvements, the Patriots have postseason football to play. They’ll visit the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs.