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Falcons narrowly avoided rostering two players suspended for 2022 season

Calvin Ridley won’t play in 2022. Atlanta’s top offseason target won’t either.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Houston Texans Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In what feels like the endless offseason, the news that Calvin Ridley would be suspended for the entirety of the 2022 season may as well have been eons ago. Instead, it was just back in March. The NFL decided to make an example of the once-elite pass catcher, who foolishly bet on NFL games while on the non-football injury list.

Ridley was foolish for betting on games, even if he wasn’t playing in those games, as that is clearly against NFL rules. More foolish is he bet on the Falcons to win, but that is another concern.

The Falcons were seemingly blind-sided by the news while in the middle of trade negotiations with the Philadelphia Eagles. There were no public concerns about Ridley’s gambling and no way for the team to avoid this headache.

Far more avoidable headaches were found with Atlanta’s enthusiastic pursuit of Deshaun Watson mere days after Ridley’s suspension. Atlanta apparently had a comprehensive rebuild plan in place, working its way out of cap hell while rebuilding the roster through the draft. Then Watson became available and that plan was thrown out the window. Instead, Atlanta could trade away those draft picks and try shoehorning one expensive veteran under its limited cap.

Watson used Atlanta’s interest to leverage a fully guaranteed deal out of the Cleveland Browns. That ended up being the only luck the Falcons have had in years, as Watson is reportedly facing an indefinite suspension expected to last a minimum of one year, per Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal.

While a suspension was always expected, Atlanta bumbled its way to a good move. Could the Falcons possibly rebuild without draft picks, cap space, or a quarterback for (at least) all of 2022? If Atlanta’s trade offer was the same as Cleveland’s, it would not have been able to secure Drake London or Arnold Ebiketie (potentially, as Atlanta traded its fourth-round pick to move up for Ebiketie).

The Watson trade would have been a bold move, with Atlanta attempting to do the complete opposite of nearly every team rebuilding plan ever seen before. What other team has mortgaged its future to add an expensive veteran quarterback to a bottom-of-the-league roster?

Atlanta may have had some seriously bad luck in recent years. Thankfully the Browns saved the Falcons from having the worst luck in the league. For Ridley, he seems destined to be traded next offseason, assuming he returns to football. For Watson, he seems destined to stick with the Browns through the length of his fully-guaranteed deal, assuming he returns to football.