JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Calvin Ridley knows the questions are out there.
What will he look like after not playing an NFL game for almost two years? Can he be anywhere near the same player as he was in 2020 when he caught 90 passes for 1,374 yards? Is he still a game breaker?
The Jaguars’ newest receiver has the answer: You’ll see in September.
“I try to be humble [and] I’ve been pretty good at football my whole life, and not only was I good, I worked to be good,” Ridley said Wednesday in his first interview since returning from his suspension from NFL games. “They say two years off. But what about the healing process? What if I get faster? What if I get stronger?
“Obviously I’ve gotten smarter. Why can’t I get better?”
The Jaguars certainly hope so, because that would make them one of the NFL’s best offenses of 2023. They were 10th in the NFL on offense overall and scored last season without Ridley, and all the key playmakers — receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, tight end Evan Engram, running back Travis Etienne Jr. and quarterback Trevor Lawrence — are in returning to head coach Doug Pederson’s second season on offense.
Ridley said in a report on The Players’ Tribune last month that he would be putting down a 1,400-yard season on his return.
“I’m a 1,400-yard player. God will determine what kind of stats I will have,” Ridley said. “Football is serious. I mean, you don’t just play 17 games in a row and think you’re going to be in every one of them and play healthy in all of them. So I’ll say I’m a 1,400 yard receiver with a broken foot.
“…So I know I could make the games and I know I’m one of the better receivers in this league. I say so.”
Lawrence said he’s thrown three or four times with Ridley since Ridley was reinstated on March 6 ahead of the Jaguars’ voluntary off-season training program, which began this Monday. He was impressed.
“He was great,” Lawrence said, “he’s hungry. He’s looking forward to being here. He has the right attitude. I think that’s the biggest thing I noticed. how explosive he is.
“We’ve only just started but it looks like he’s picking [the offense] up pretty quick.”
Ridley has not played an NFL game since October 24, 2021. So when the Jaguars open the season in September, it will be his first game in 23 months. He hadn’t even been in a locker room since leaving the Falcons on Oct. 31, 2021 to focus on his mental health. Stepping into the Jaguars’ locker room shortly after his reinstatement was special, he said.
“The smell, the dressing room. I remember the first day I walked in, there was no one in the dressing room but I was like, ‘Wow, I’m really back in here,'” Ridley said.
On March 7, 2022, the NFL announced that Ridley would be suspended for at least the 2022 season after an investigation found that he had bet on NFL games for a five-day period in November 2021 “worst mistake of his life”. He also said he went through a foot injury in 2020, misdiagnosed a bone bruise and eventually underwent surgery a few months before training camp began in 2021 after a burglary at his home, which is why he eventually retired from the game.
The Jaguars traded for Ridley last November, sending the Falcons a fifth-round pick in 2023 and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2024 that could climb as high as a second-round pick if the Jaguars beat Ridley for one commit to an extension. Ridley’s reinstatement means he will receive a guaranteed $11.116 million in 2023 as a fifth-year option from the rookie deal he signed with the Falcons after being drafted 26th overall in 2018.