Ridley will not play in 2022, and there are no guarantees for the NFL's future of the player who was expected to be the Falcons’ top target for quarterback Matt Ryan.
After a league investigation found Ridley placed bets on NFL games in 2021, while Ridley was away from the team to address mental health concerns, Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, suspended Ridley. According to the league, the suspension will continue "through the end of the 2022 season."
According to the NFL, the betting occurred in November 2021 over five days. Ridley was added to the non-football illnesses list after Week 8 of last season, which concluded Nov. 1.
Ridley posted Monday on Twitter that he had "I placed 1500 total and I don't have any gambling problems."
He seemed to be lighthearted about his suspension, adding in another post "I knew I was wrong But... I'm getting 1 Year lol." He also stated "Just gone to be more healthy when you come back."
Ridley also defended himself via another tweet, saying "If you know me, you know my character."
Goodell announced that a league investigation found no evidence of inside information being used or that Ridley's gambling had compromised any game. There was no evidence that any Falcons players, coaches or staff knew about Ridley’s betting activities.
Ridley may petition for reinstatement after Feb. 23, 2023.
The Falcons did not receive any updates during the offseason about Ridley's condition. Monday's statement by the team stated that it had cooperated with the league in its investigation of Ridley in the past month.
The statement stated that the Falcons were made aware of the investigation by the league on February 9. "We have fully cooperated with the investigation ever since we received notice and support the findings and actions of the league. With the final decision, we are moving forward for the 2022 season. The NFL has made the decision. Any questions regarding the investigation should be directed at the league office.
The commissioner stated in a letter sent by Goodell to Ridley:
The integrity of the game is the most important thing for the NFL's success and everyone who associates with it.
This is the responsibility of all players, coaches, owners, game officials, and any other employees in the league. Your actions could compromise the integrity of professional football and cause public disillusionment.
"For decades, the gambling on NFL games was considered one of the most serious violations of league policy and deserved the harshest sanction. In your case, I commend and acknowledge you for reporting promptly for interview and admitting to your actions.
Ridley was in doubt about his future with the Falcons even before the suspension. After being a late scratch, he sat out the last two months of the season. This was before the Falcons' 19-13 loss against Carolina on October 31.
Ridley wrote that Ridley was absent because he needed to focus on his mental health and not football.
Ridley hadn't posted any updates to his Twitter account since Friday when he posted an image of a football and said "is life." Sunday was his second update. "I learn from my Ls."
In 2020, the Falcons' 2018 draft pick in the first round had 90 catches for 1,374 yard and nine touchdowns. Ryan expected Ridley to be Ryan’s top playmaker, after Julio Jones was traded from Tennessee to Tennessee in the 2021 season. In his short season, Ridley only had 31 receptions for 281 yards. He also scored two touchdowns.
The salary cap for 2022 was $7.3 million higher than the Falcons'. They can remove Ridley's $11.1million salary from their payroll and move them below the cap. This contract will shift to 2023 when Ridley would be a free agent.
Atlanta's plans to participate in free agency and draft could be affected by Ridley's suspension. The position of wide receiver is now a priority for the team and they could put more emphasis on Russell Gage, a free agent. Gage and Kyle Pitts, a rookie tight end, were Atlanta's top receivers last year.
Goodell has not previously issued a gambling suspension. In November 2019, Goodell suspended Arizona Cardinals cornerback Josh Shaw for gambling during an NFL game. Shaw has been out of the league since being suspended. He missed 21 games in 2019 and 2020.
In 1963, Pete Rozelle, then-commissioner of the NFL suspended Paul Hornung of Green Bay as a star running back and Alex Karras of Detroit as a defensive tackle. Both are now Hall of Famer. Both were suspended for the season. Rozelle blamed bets on league games, as well as being associated with gamblers and "known hoodlums".
Twenty-five years later, Rozelle suspended Colts quarterback Art Schlichter. He was only in his second professional season.
Rozelle stated that Schlichter would not be reinstated until the league is able to be certain that the league will not repeat the grave violations of cardinal NFL rules.
Schlichter was reintroduced and he played for 1984-85. He couldn't quit gambling and ended up in prison for a multimillion-dollar ticketing fraud.
Bert Bell, then-commissioner of the New York Giants, suspended Frank Filchock (and Merle Hapes) for failing to report attempted bribes for the 1946 championship match. Filchock did play in the game that the Giants lost 24-14 against the Bears. Hapes was not allowed on the field.
Both were then suspended. Filchock did not return to the NFL with Baltimore until 1950, although he was a part of four seasons in Canada. Hapes has never played in another NFL game.