Cover 9@9: Falcons will need more clarity on Calvin Ridley’s situation

Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) runs the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) runs the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

1. The no-spin zone: With the regular season completed, the Falcons continue to support wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who left the team Oct. 31 to tend to his mental “well-being.”

“As an organization we’ve done the best job that we could to support Calvin and did everything that we can for him,” Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said Tuesday. “I know that he made the statement when he did, and we made a statement during the season as well. Really, up to this point, nothing has changed.”

Fontenot was asked about Ridley again.

“Nothing has changed,” he said. “We just continue to support him.”

The Falcons will need to know his status before the NFL’s new business year and free agency start March 16. Teams and agents can start negotiations March 14.

If not by the start of free agency, then the Falcons definitely will need to know by the draft, which is set for April 26-28 in Las Vegas.

Given the situation, Fontenot said it would be prudent not to assume that the Falcons will be in the wide-receiver market.

“I wouldn’t assume anything,” Fontenot said. “We handle each situation individually. There are so many variables that we deal with. We are going to try to add to every position this offseason. Whatever player we are talking about, whether if they are under contract or not under contract, we have to be prepared for everything.”

2a. Fixing the lines: The Falcons’ offseason priority is to fix the offensive line. On defense the Falcons must develop a pass rush and play better man-to-man coverage, according to defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

“You’re trying to win games,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “We need to be better. We need more plays offensively. We need to extend drives. We need to get off the field on third downs. We need to close the gaps in those games that we lost. That’s clear and there are multiple ways to do that.”

Having a better offensive line will fix most of that. They could pick up first downs in short-yardage situations and get you more plays. If they can convert on third downs, that will extend drives.

If the defense could rush the passer, the unit could get off the field on third downs. Also, the defensive backs would not have to stay in man-to-man coverage for so long.

“I think we were 31st (in the NFL) in offensive plays run, and that’s a team issue,” said Smith, who didn’t want to single-out his offensive line. “That’s what we’ll do. There is everywhere, where you have to get better. If you win two games and finish fifth in passing are you patting yourself on the back? No. We are clearly going to continue to improve.”

The Falcons had a three-game stretch where they ran the ball for more than 100 yards. But the rushing attack was not consistent.

“It doesn’t tell the whole story,” Smith said. “There were times against really good defenses that we ran the ball well. We need to do a better job of sustaining drives, getting into the red zone and scoring more points than the other team. It’s pretty practical. We’ve got to close the gap in those other games.”

2b. Draft plan. Fontenot reiterated the franchise’s plan to draft the best player available and not reach for players in areas of need.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Fontenot said. “The college staff has been grinding all year. Now, it’s to the point where the coaches are going to get involved in the process. It’s going to be a collaborative effort to make sure we bring in the best players that we can.”

3. Free agency: Here are the 27 Falcons set to become unrestricted free agents on March 16: Josh Andrews, G; Daren Bates, LB; Christian Blake, WR; Jonathan Bullard, DT; Brandon Copeland, LB; Dante Fowler, LB; Russell Gage, WR; Matt Gono, OG; Colby Gossett, OL; Jaeden Graham, TE; Duron Harmon, SS; Erik Harris, FS; Josh Harris, LS; Hayden Hurst, TE; Younghoe Koo, PK; A.J. McCarron, QB; Steven Means, DE; Thomas Morstead, P; Fabian Moreau, CB; Isaiah Oliver, CB; Foye Oluokun, LB; Cordarrelle Patterson, RB/WR; Josh Rosen, QB; Tajae Sharpe, WR; Lee Smith, TE; Jason Springs, OT and Olamide Zaccheaus, WR.

4. Reserve/future players: The Falcons signed 17 players, including two from the Canadian Football League, to reserve/futures contracts Monday.

The players are: defensive back Dee Alford, defensive back Cornell Armstrong, offensive lineman Willie Beavers, outside linebacker Quinton Bell, outside linebacker Jordan Brailford, inside linebacker Dorian Etheridge, wide receiver Chad Hansen, running back Caleb Huntley, cornerback Luther Kirk, tight end Brayden Lenius, punter Dom Maggio, offensive lineman Ryan Neuzil, cornerback Lafayette Pitts, tight end John Raine, outside linebacker Rashad Smith, defensive end Nick Thurman and wide receiver Austin Trammell.

Alford, 24, made 48 total tackles, four interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, and had one forced fumble in 14 games for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2021. He played at Tusculum and at Spalding High School.

Lenius, who’s 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, had 37 receptions for 471 yards (12.7 average) and four touchdowns in 11 games for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2021. He played a season at New Mexico and three seasons at Washington.

5. 2022 opponents: The Falcons know their opponents for the 2022 season after the regular-season ended Sunday. The Falcons (7-10) finished in third place in the NFC South. Dates and times will be announced at a later date.

The Falcons will play home and away games against the rest of the NFC South in the Saints, Buccaneers and Panthers.

The home games will include the Cardinals, 49ers, Browns, Steelers, Bears and Chargers.

The away games will include the Ravens, Bengals, Rams, Seahawks and Washington Football Team.

6. Hurst wants to return: Hurst, who is set to become a free agent, had his $5.4 million fifth-year option declined earlier. He acknowledged his uncertain future after the 30-20 loss to the Saints.

“I just want an opportunity wherever it is,” Hurst said. “Here or wherever. I know the type of player that I am, what I can bring to the table and bring to a team. All I ask for is opportunities.”

He has not ruled out returning to the Falcons.

“That’s up to Arthur and Terry,” Hurst said. “All I can do is show up and make the most of my opportunities. I think that I showed that this year. I honestly have no idea.”

7. Draft order: 1. Jacksonville Jaguars; 2. Detroit Lions; 3. Houston Texans; 4. New York Jets; 5. New York Giants; 6. Carolina Panthers; 7. Chicago Bears (traded to N.Y. Giants); 8. Falcons; 9. Denver Broncos; 10. Seattle Seahawks (traded to N.Y. Jets); 11. Washington Football Team; 12. Minnesota Vikings; 13. Cleveland Browns; 14. Baltimore Ravens; 15. Miami Dolphins (traded to Philadelphia); 16. Indianapolis Colts (traded to Philadelphia); 17. Los Angeles Chargers; 18. New Orleans Saints; *19. Philadelphia Eagles; *20. Pittsburgh Steelers; *21. Cincinnati Bengals; *22. New England Patriots; *23. San Francisco 49ers (traded to Miami); *24. Las Vegas Raiders; *25. Buffalo Bills; *26. Arizona Cardinals; *27. Tennessee Titans; *28. Los Angeles Rams (traded to Detroit); *29. Dallas Cowboys; *30. Kansas City Chiefs; *31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers; *32. Green Bay Packers.

*- Subject to playoffs results

8. Super wild-card playoff betting odds: Here are the odds for the NFC and AFC super wild-card round of the NFL playoffs, according to BetOnline.ag.

NFC

Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Philadelphia Eagles +8

Tampa Bay Buccaneers -8

Over/under 48

San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys

San Francisco 49ers +3

Dallas Cowboys -3

Over/under 49

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams

Arizona Cardinals +4

Los Angeles Rams -4

Over/under 49½

AFC

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs

Pittsburgh Steelers +13

Kanas City Chiefs -13

Over/under 48

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills

New England Patriots +4

Buffalo Bills -4

Over/under 43½

Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals

Las Vegas Raiders +6

Cincinnati Bengals -6

Over/under 48½

There will be two games Saturday, three Sunday and one Monday under the new format.

The No. 1 seeds, receiving byes, are the Packers and the Titans.

Here is the complete opening schedule:

Saturday

AFC

No. 5 Raiders at No. 4 Bengals, 4:30 p.m. (NBC)

No. 6 Patriots at No. 3 Bills, 8:15 p.m. (CBS)

Sunday

NFC

No. 7 Eagles at No. 2 Buccaneers, 1 p.m. (Fox)

No. 6 49ers at No. 3 Cowboys, 4:30 p.m. (CBS)

AFC

No. 7 Steelers at No. 2 Chiefs, 8:15 p.m. (NBC)

Monday

NFC

No. 5 Cardinals at No. 4 Rams, 8:15 p.m. (ABC/ESPN)

9. Good Guy Award: Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson on Monday was named the Professional Football Writers of America “Good Guy Award” winner in a vote of Atlanta writers and broadcasters who are regularly assigned to cover the team.

“I appreciated it,” Patterson said.

Patterson, who was in his first season with the Falcons, regularly spoke during media availability during the week and after the games. He answered questions even after some of the team’s difficult losses.

Also, receiving high consideration from the voters was safety Duron Harmon, for his insight into the team.

The Good Guy Award is given to a player for his qualities and professional style in helping pro football writers and broadcasters do their jobs. The national award was first given by the Pro Football Writers of America in 2005.

National Good Guy award winners: 2005 – Jerome Bettis, Pittsburgh; 2006 – Tiki Barber, New York Giants; 2007 – LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego; 2008 – Brett Favre, Green Bay; 2009 – Kurt Warner, Arizona; 2010 – Drew Brees, New Orleans; 2011 – Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay; 2012 – Tim Tebow, Denver; 2013 – Tony Gonzalez, Falcons; 2014 – Russell Wilson, Seattle; 2015 – Richard Sherman, Seattle; 2016 – Thomas Davis, Carolina; 2017 – Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona; 2018 – Chris Long, Philadelphia; 2019 – Chris Long, Philadelphia; 2020 – Eli Manning, New York Giants.

Falcons Good Guy award winners: 2011 – Roddy White; 2012 – Thomas DeCoud; 2013 – William Moore. 2014 – Paul Worrilow; 2015 – Julio Jones; 2016 – Dwight Freeney; 2017 – Ricardo Allen; 2018 – Brooks Reed; 2019 – Grady Jarrett; 2020 – Foye Oluokun; 2021 – Cordarrelle Patterson.

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