GM Trent Baalke: Jaguars did 'due diligence' before Calvin Ridley trade

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars' trade for Calvin Ridley was not one that came together quickly. It took several months, numerous interviews with those close to Ridley, and some intricate negotiating before the team finally ended up with one of the league's best receivers.

General manager Trent Baalke said Wednesday that the team's research into Ridley -- who is serving at least a one-year suspension for gambling on NFL games -- eased concerns enough that they were willing to give the Atlanta Falcons a 2023 fifth-round pick and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2024 that could rise as high as a second-round pick under certain conditions.

"We're confident in the due diligence that we did, who we talked to or what," Baalke said. "We're confident in the work that we did and we feel very good about the decision to trade for Calvin."

There obviously were significant concerns about Ridley, who hasn't played in an NFL game since Oct. 24, 2021. Ridley left the Falcons seven days later and said in a statement that he "needed to step away from football at this time and focus on my mental wellbeing."

On March 7, the NFL announced that Ridley was suspended for at least the 2022 season after an investigation found that he bet on NFL games over a five-day stretch in November 2021. A league source told ESPN's Adam Schefter in March that the league determined that Riley placed parlay bets that included the Falcons to win via his mobile device out of state.

In a series of tweets after the suspension was announced, Ridley admitted his bets totaled $1,500 but said he doesn't have a gambling problem.

Ridley can apply for reinstatement on Feb. 15, 2023.

The Jaguars spoke with numerous people close to Ridley over the course of the past four months, and Baalke said what they found convinced them to make the trade now instead of waiting for Ridley to be reinstated, when the price for Ridley likely would have increased because of other potential suitors.

"We felt this was an opportunity to do it and the timing was right," Baalke said. "It doesn't take anything away from this season or what we're trying to accomplish this year."

Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said Wednesday he and Baalke first discussed Ridley in March when they were discussing potential receiver additions in free agency. The Jaguars signed receivers Christian Kirk (four years, $72 million, $37 million guaranteed) and Zay Jones (three years, $24 million, $14 million guaranteed) to free agent contracts but kept their eye on Ridley as a potential later addition.

Talks with the Falcons went on during the past several months, and the trade was finally executed on Tuesday, just hours before the NFL's 4 p.m. ET trade deadline. Now the Jaguars, in theory, have a No. 1 receiver to go along with Kirk and Jones, but they won't know for sure exactly what they're getting until he is reinstated and gets on the practice field.

Ridley, who turns 28 on Dec. 20, had 248 catches for 3,342 yards and 28 touchdowns in 49 games with the Falcons, including 90 catches for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020. But if he's cleared to play in the 2023 season opener, he'll go 24 months between games.

"I don't think [the long layoff] is a concern," Pederson said. "For the player, I think you look at it as a possible fresh start. Kind of rejuvenated much like myself [taking the 2021 season off before taking the Jaguars job]. Energy level will be high, a new team, coming back to Florida, all those. It's just a matter of once he is cleared by the league, getting him in here when we can and getting him caught up."

Ridley will have a lot of help. Jaguars left tackle Cam Robinson played with Ridley at Alabama and linebacker Foye Oluokun played with him in Atlanta. Robinson said he reached out to Ridley on Tuesday evening after news broke of the trade.

"I told him anything he needs, I'm here for him," Robinson said. "He had a lot going on, so I let him get going. But we'll touch base more soon."

The biggest beneficiary of the trade is quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who gets a receiver who had 17 touchdown catches in his first two seasons with the Falcons and was a second-team All-Pro in 2020.

"Being a quarterback, you can't not be excited about that," Lawrence said. "But right now we're focused on the rest of the season that's ahead of us."