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Tuesday January 25th, 2022 2:52AM

Falcons GM Fontenot not ready to give up on Ridley for 2022

By The Associated Press
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ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said Tuesday he's not ready to make 2022 plans to be without Calvin Ridley, the team's top wide receiver who missed the final 11 games of the season while addressing mental health issues.

Fontenot and his staff have launched their offseason which will include player evaluations and ranking needs for the NFL draft on April 28-30 and free agency. The Falcons have the No. 8 overall pick in the first round of the draft.

Ridley's immediate and long-term future with the Falcons remained uncertain for the final two months of the season after he was a last-minute scratch before the team's 19-13 loss to Carolina on Oct. 31.

On that day, Ridley explained his absence when he wrote on his Twitter account “I need to step away from football at this time and focus on my mental well being.”

Ridley has not provided another update on his plans.

“It really hasn’t changed,” Fontenot said in his first offseason news conference. “As an organization we’ve done the best job we could just to support Calvin and do everything we can for him.”

Added Fontenot: “Really up to this point nothing has changed.”

When asked if that means the Falcons must plan to be without Ridley next season, Fontenot said “No, I wouldn’t assume anything. Like I said, we handle each situation individually. There are so many variables we deal with. We’re going to try to add to every position this offseason.”

Added Fontenot: “Whatever player we’re talking about, whether under contract or not under contract, we have to be prepared for everything.”

The Falcons closed a 7-10 season with Sunday's 30-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints. First-year coach Arthur Smith cast an o ptimistic review on the season when said he believes "we have a good foundation and better days are ahead.”

It would be easier for Smith and Fontenot to make plans for the future if they had more clarity on Ridley's status. Ridley's exit came after the franchise's leading career receiver, Julio Jones, was traded to Tennessee before the season.

Ridley, the Falcons' 2018 first-round draft pick who had 90 catches for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020, was expected to be quarterback Matt Ryan's top playmaker.

Ridley had only 31 receptions for 281 yards and two touchdowns in his shortened season.

Rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, wide receiver Russell Gage and others tried to fill the void.

The lack of big-play threats in the passing game was a problem. There are needs in many areas after the Falcons finished last in the league in sacks while allowing the most quarterback hits. Those glaring weaknesses would make it difficult to rank wide receiver as a top priority, especially if the Falcons retain hope Ridley will return.

Smith said Tuesday some of the team's weaknesses could be addressed if the Falcons could run more offensive plays by extending drives.

“We need more plays offensively,” Smith said. “We need to extend the drives. We need to get off the field on third down and we need to close the gaps in those games that we lost.”

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