Calvin Ridley, Falcons cross paths again in London

LONDON — Before their last trip to London, the Falcons left wide receiver Calvin Ridley behind because of what at the time was called a personal matter.

Later that season, Ridley would leave the team to attend to his “mental well-being.” He would later be suspended by the NFL for gambling. His career was off to a nice start with the Falcons before it started spiraling out of control during coach Arthur Smith’s first season with the team.

Ridley was traded the Jaguars in November and then reinstated by the league. Now, he’s set to face the Falcons at 9:30 a.m. EDT Sunday at Wembley Stadium.

Ridley is trying to take a low-key approach to the game.

“I got friends over there, man,” Ridley told the Associated Press this week. “You know, it’s still the first team I played for, and I know a couple guys over there. It’s still love. No hard feelings.”

He’s had mixed results in his first three games back. He started out strong, but dropped two passes and had two false-start penalties in Jacksonville’s 37-17 loss to Houston on Sunday.

“There have been a lot of curveballs, but that’s part of the job when you step into leadership positions,” Smith said of the issue he faced. “I’d imagine at your job, there are things that you account for and there are things that you don’t account for, but that’s life.”

Ridley tried to return to the Falcons, but eventually left to deal with his mental health. He would later chronicle his battles with mental health and gambling that started with a home invasion in an article in the Player’s Tribune.

“Always appreciative of the time that I got to spend with Calvin,” Smith said. “It’s good to see him back out there. He’s a good player.”

The Falcons had moved on from Julio Jones and were counting on Ridley to be the No. 1 wide receiver.

“When things come up, you try to do what’s right for everybody involved and have win-wins, but it does, as a person, it does make you feel good to see somebody back doing what they love,” Smith said. “Again, you have a lot of friends in this business that are people or relationships and you’re playing close family or friends, we’re out there to compete, but from a human side and as somebody that got to work with somebody personally, very happy to see him – and it will be good to see him, hopefully in pregame – but it does bring me a lot of joy to see him doing well.”

Smith is in his third season with the Falcons, but the handling of Ridley’s situation was difficult.

“Learn from a lot of things,” Smith said. “Some things you share, or you write down. There are other things that – there are so many things, lessons learned. It’s hard for me to sit there, and I understand the question, but I’m not going to go into some elaborate pontification about what I learned on the record.”

Smith doesn’t believe the time he worked with Ridley will be a factor in the game.

“I mean, just like I had worked with (Lions receiver) Kalif Raymond (who the Falcons faced Sunday),” Smith said. “There are certain things that you know, but it’s a different offense, players evolve. You know something about them, but at the end of the day, the good players are in the NFL.”

Raymond, who played at Greater Atlanta Christian and Holy Cross, has carved out a niche in the NFL.

“Kalif was one of those guys that I really enjoyed coaching,” Smith said. “The improvement that he’s made, a guy that got an opportunity. A guy that’s been cut like six times out of Holy Cross. Made some plays for us in Tennessee, and you’ve seen his career take off.”

Last November, the Falcons worked out a trade with the Jaguars.

Ridley, who was a first-round pick in 2018 out of Alabama, had 248 catches for 3,342 yards and 28 touchdowns for the Falcons.

The complicated compensation package increases if Ridley plays well and if he signs a long-term contract with the Jaguars.

“Yes, it gives you a little insight, but they’re different schemes,” Smith said. “It’s a different time in their football career, too.”

The Falcons have not seen any drop-off in Ridley’s game.

“Anytime that you’ve got a guy, who’s been out of the league and then you come back and still have the skills to play at a high level, that’s incredible,” Falcons assistant head coach/defense Jerry Gray said. “That means he’s working somewhere. It means he’s not just sitting on the couch.”

The Falcons consider Ridley dangerous.

“You may not see it, but you can’t come back and have that burst and stuff like that and not be a worker,” Gray said. “That’s a tribute to him, and whoever is training him did a good job of getting him back on the football field, getting him physically ready to go because you see the explosion.”

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