Since Jacksonville received wide receiver Calvin Ridley from the Atlanta Falcons in an NFL trade on Nov. 1, the Jaguars have an 8-3 record. In his 11 games before the trade, Jacksonville had a 3-8 record.
And Ridley hasn’t even played for the Jaguars.
Ridley was unable to join Jacksonville after the trade last season because the NFL suspended him indefinitely for betting on league games. The former Alabama standout missed the entire 2022 season. The NFL lifted his suspension Monday.
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“The Jags got me early, man,” Ridley said during a video interview for the NFL team’s media on Wednesday. “I was suspended and they gave me a chance, they shot me. I thank them so much for giving me a chance so early in this situation. It gave me some energy. I had a team to watch. I had a reason to come back and be a great player. And they started to play fantastic, so I really enjoyed seeing them get better.”
But as much as he was encouraged by the Jaguars’ stretch run to the playoffs in the 2022 season, Ridley said it wasn’t easy watching football without knowing when he’d play again.
“I have to watch it at home and I know there’s really nothing I can do to get back in the game until I get approval,” Ridley said. “The game was taken away from me and I was like, ‘Man, I can’t sit at home all day. I need a job.’ I’ve always worked every day. Football was my job most of my life so that was the hardest part – just not being able to run and be part of a team and feel important in that moment so it was tough. …
“A year away from the NFL puts a lot of things into perspective for a young man like me. A year without football and coming back now shows me that I miss the game more than ever and that I love football more than ever.”
It’s one of the reasons Ridley would start the Jaguars’ offseason program right now if he could.
“I wish April 17 was tomorrow,” Ridley said. “That’s what I’m here for. I want to play football. I can’t tell you how excited I am.”
Ridley also can’t wait for the 2023 NFL season to start and he can play his first game since October 24, 2021.
“It’s going to be great for my mom, for my family and for me,” Ridley said. “It’s just going to take a load off my shoulders for waiting so long to get back to this point. I look forward to racing through this tunnel and showing every Jaguar fan in Jacksonville who I am.”
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2021 NFL draft pick Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence began making good on his promise in his sophomore season. Ridley believes he can help Lawrence flourish.
In his last full season, Ridley had 90 receptions for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020 for the Falcons.
In 49 NFL regular-season games, Ridley has 248 receptions for 3,342 yards and 28 touchdowns. Only four other receivers in NFL history can match Ridley’s receiving stats in the first 49 games – Odell Beckham Jr., Marques Colston, Mike Evans and AJ Green.
“He’s a great quarterback – young, smart, has one arm,” Ridley said of Lawrence. “All I know is that my tools are coming to play with him, I could just see us doing really, really big things. He has the arm strength to reach me.”
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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.