The Falcons drafting of wide receiver Calvin Ridley in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft was one of the bigger surprises in recent Falcons draft history. With most people thinking the team would focus on beefing up their defensive line, they grabbed one of the two best receivers in this draft class.
A move like this begs the question: what veteran or veterans are impacted by this surprising pick? What could happen in the near future as a result of this move?
First, let’s get this out of the way: this move was not about Julio Jones. Despite recent rumors, Julio is not going anywhere. If I were a betting man, I’d put big money on Jones retiring as an Atlanta Falcon. Ridley will not be expected to be our WR1, which should actually help in his long-term development.
While the front-office admits Ridley will replace Taylor Gabriel in 2018, the veteran ultimately impacted by drafting Calvin Ridley is Mohamed Sanu.
Don’t get me wrong: Sanu will be an important part of the offense this year. He’s not going anywhere in 2018. As for 2019? That’s a different matter. While Sanu has a contract that goes through 2020, the possibility of the Falcons moving on from him in 2019 increased dramatically with the signing of Ridley. Here are a few reasons why.
Unfortunately, the Falcons will be forced to make some tough decisions over the next few years. In order to keep many of their good draft picks, they’ll have to look long and hard at big deals for some of their veterans. Mohamed Sanu is slated to count 7.4 million against the 2019 salary cap for the team. That’s the 8th highest cap hit next year. Cutting him would save 4.6 million off the cap while cutting him after June 1st 2019 would save 6 million.
If Ridley is able to become a true WR2 in 2018, it will be hard to justify such a large cap hit for a guy that’s been relegated to the WR3 role. Make no mistake, either: the Falcons are hoping that Ridley grabs that WR2 role sooner rather than later.
Too many weapons
Along those same lines, the team has to decide what the offense is going to look like over the next several years. It’s clear they want Ridley to develop into their WR2 of the future. They also still have high hopes for Austin Hooper and Devonta Freeman isn’t going anywhere. Ito Smith may also have some serious potential as a dual-threat RB.
It’s not that Sanu hasn’t been valuable to the team, but as younger options develop, his role on the offense may naturally decline due to getting the ball to these other play makers. Even in the most prolific offenses, there are only so many snaps to go around. Keeping Sanu around in 2019 for a WR3 role just wouldn’t make sense.
Calvin Ridley will come in as a fast receiver that can stretch the field, but also one that is excellent in his route running and incredibly capable at getting open. While he lacks the physicality of Sanu, he’s someone that can be used in more spots on the field.
Sanu is great over the middle, but is not really a capable downfield threat. When he and Julio are on the field, defenses aren’t worried about him going over the top like they would be with Ridley. This limitation in Sanus game makes the offense slightly more predictable and ultimately limits what they can do. Ridley is not a perfect receiver, but he can stretch a defense more, giving Julio the full route tree to explore when he is on the field.
None of this is to say that Sanu is a guaranteed goner in 2019. Much will depend on how quickly Ridley adapts to the NFL game. It’s entirely possible the team will look to save money elsewhere if our first round draft pick needs more time to acclimate. However, if Calvin does develop and shows the promise many are bullish on, Sanu’s role on the team could come to a close after this season.