The Jacksonville Jaguars have been a team in search of success for quite some time now. With a new regime at the helm as head coach Doug Pederson enters just his second year with the franchise, the Jaguars are poised to make a significant run within the AFC in 2023.
The former Super Bowl-winning coach led the Jags all the way to the AFC Divisional Round last season, losing closely to the Kansas Chiefs, the eventual Super Bowl champions.
It was surprising to most the significant jump Jacksonville made last season after finishing 3-14 the year prior. This was, of course, under first-time NFL head coach Urban Meyer, who was fired midseason. The Jaguars have had a plethora of high draft picks over the last couple seasons, while making some significant pickups within free agency, the draft and even trades.
The Jaguars have been trying to bolster their roster to elevate themselves as one of the elite teams of the AFC. However, the decision to trade with the Atlanta Falcons for wide receiver Calvin Ridley stands out as their riskiest move yet, as it carries a multitude of potential pitfalls and uncertainties.
Ridley's decision to step away from football during the 2021 season due to mental health reasons was no doubt a courageous and necessary move for his well-being. However, it undoubtedly raises concerns about his long-term stability and commitment to the game.
Football is not only a physically demanding sport but a mentally demanding one, where any such lingering issues could impact a player's performance and availability during the season. Even after a lengthy absence, the Jaguars are taking a considerable gamble by banking on Ridley's ability to fully recover and consistently contribute on the field, especially if they want to make him WR1.
Speaking of a gamble…
It is Ridley's one-year suspension that is central to his concerns. Sports-betting, although harmless to most and even encouraged by the NFL through their partnerships with sportsbook companies, is how the league made its first real example with Ridley.
Ridley received a one-year suspension from the NFL in early 2022 because he was found to be gambling on NFL games through his mobile phone. This was really the final straw for the Falcons, who were trying to (still are) rebuild their team.
Though Ridley was away from all team facilities and was not playing at the time due to him being on the non-illness list with his mental health issues, the NFL made it clear their stance.
That wasn't his only off-the-field issue, however.
In addition to Ridley's gambling mishap, the former Falcons wide receiver has faced legal challenges, including an arrest for a misdemeanor of criminal trespassing.
While the charges were later dropped, the incident continues to raise questions about Ridley's personal decision-making off the field that could potentially lead to distractions on the field. The Jaguars, who look capable of making it far into the playoffs this year, must keep a close eye on Ridley's off-the-field behavior.
Building a cohesive team is essential for success in the NFL. The Jaguars are in the midst of building a team worthy to compete with the best in the AFC where Ridley has the capabilities to play a significant role in that.
With as talented as he is, the Jaguars will need him to jell with them as smoothly as possible if they want to compete. There's hope that Ridley can instantly connect with his offensive guru head coach, along with his young, talented quarterback Trevor Lawrence. He'll just have to stay on the field long enough for all parties to find out if this can come true.
Don't forget, the Jaguars paid a significant price to acquire Ridley, both in terms of draft capital and financial commitment. Any time a team invests heavily in a player, the stakes are high. The trade came with the expectation that Ridley would perform at an elite level and justify the investment. The price is even higher considering Ridley hasn't played in an NFL game since late October 2021.
While the Jaguars' decision to trade for Ridley has great potential to excel this team to the next level, the question will always be which is higher: the risk or the reward?