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Will the Falcons give Calvin Ridley a 5th-year option or go for the early extension?

The team has until May to decide, but they may want to just secure him with a long-term deal.

Atlanta Falcons v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The question for Calvin Ridley is not whether he’ll be part of the Falcons offense in 2022 and beyond. The question is whether he’ll be here due to the Falcons picking up his 5th year option, or whether he’ll have a shiny new long-term deal in its place.

Ridley is one of the best young receivers in football, full stop, and is coming off the best campaign of his career. With Julio Jones’ future in Atlanta looking a bit cloudier after an injury-marred 2020, Ridley is the team’s surest thing on offense over the next five-plus years, meaning the team has to lock him up.

Ridley has 217 receptions, 3,061 yards, and 26 touchdowns through his first three seasons, showcasing elite route running in the process. While the offense will look very different with Arthur Smith at the helm than it did with Dirk Koetter, it’s worth noting that Ridley produced like an elite option without Julio on the field, which was the last hurdle he needed to clear to show he’s a top receiver in this league. It’s a question of when the Falcons get the deal done, not if.

The good news is that Ridley seems amenable for an extension right now, per...well, Calvin Ridley.

Todd Gurley signaled his support, too:

The fifth year option is a...well, option for both Ridley and Hayden Hurst. The problem is the cost of that, which in 2022 figures figures to be north of $16 million. Atlanta will likely be in a better position against the cap a year from now, but you don’t really want to be handing over that much money in a single season if you can help it, and having to build your offseason around that cap hold while you negotiate a larger deal is not ideal either.

The ideal outcome would be the Falcons getting a deal done with Ridley this summer, one that makes his cap hits more manageable over the next 2-3 years while giving him a ton of cash and long-term security. That allows Atlanta to steer into the 2022 offseason with more flexibility than they’ll enjoy this spring, and it takes care of by far their biggest 2022 free agent priority, given that Hurst, Foye Oluokun, Ricardo Allen, and Russell Gage are probably the other big names from that upcoming free agency class.

The fifth year option should be a last resort for the Falcons if they’re worried that negotiations ahead of next year’s free agency will be unworkable, or that they’ll need the extra time to negotiate a deal into the summer of 2022. The very real cap impacts heading into next year’s free agency should preclude it if Calvin Ridley is ready for a new deal, so I’m hopeful we’ll find Ridley has a new deal in hand or an agreement between the two sides ahead of the May deadline for picking up that option.

We’ll talk Hayden Hurst a little later in the week, as that’s a different situation entirely.