NFL

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Pitiful Panthers

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Carolina Panthers fired head coach Matt Rhule Monday morning. Carolina is off to a 1 – 4 start and lost to San Francisco 37 – 15 on Sunday.

Rhule is in his third season as the head coach in Charlotte. His overall record is 11 -27.

Under Rhule, the Panthers went 1-27 when allowing 17 or more points, including 25 losses in a row. Every other team has multiple such wins in that span.

This is less than six full months after owner David Tepper said it could take five, maybe six years to rebuild an organization capable of sustaining excellence and contending for championships.

Tepper in late April said: “I believe in Matt. He has my full support.”

“I’m a fan,” Tepper added that day. “I don’t like to lose. But it takes time and it takes a foundation, and it takes time to create the foundation to win. I do believe Coach Rhule and [general manager] Scott [Fitterer] have done a great job of creating that foundation.”

Rhule was a hot coaching candidate when he was hired for the job in January 2020. He rebuilt Baylor and Temple. He had his best seasons in his third year at both of those schools, winning at least ten games.

He had a seven-year, $62 million contract. Rhule is still owed more than $40 million.

He inherited Cam Newton, who was released in March 2020 as he rehabbed from foot surgery and an ailing shoulder that made him a shell of the player who won the NFL MVP Award in 2015.

The Panthers brought in Teddy Bridgewater, who was released one season after getting a three-year, $63 million deal. They then traded with the New York Jets for the 2018 third overall pick Sam Darnold, who had gone 13-25 as the starter in New York.

Carolina brought back Newton midway through the 2021 season, when Darnold suffered a shoulder injury, only to watch him go 0 – 5.

“That’s the most important position on the field,” Tepper said after the team moved on from Newton. “Unless you have that guy for sure that gets you to the playoffs and Super Bowls, you have to keep reevaluating that because that’s the only thing that matters is Super Bowls.”

“And until you have that guy, you’re evaluating, evaluating, evaluating every year.”

Rhule believed the roster was good enough to be competitive this season if they had solid quarterback play.

Carolina was one of the finalists to trade with the Houston Texans for Deshaun Watson this past offseason. Once he chose Cleveland it made Baker Mayfield expendable. The Panthers traded for Baker in July.

The Baker Mayfield experiment has been a disaster so far. Mayfield hasn’t regained the form he had in 2020, when he led the Browns to an 11 – 5 record and playoff win, as he is putting up career lows in almost every statistical category.

Mayfield’s 16.5 QBR is the lowest among passers with at least three games in the NFL this season while he has completed a league-worst 54.9% of his passes and has committed five turnovers (four interceptions and a lost fumble).

Defensive pass game coordinator Steve Wilks was named the interim coach. Wilks, 53, was previously a head coach in the NFL with Arizona in 2018. He posted a 3 – 13 record and was fired following his first season.

 

 

 

 

Down Here

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The NFL season is underway and there is a lot of room for improvement for several teams. We are going to take a look at the AFC South and preview the Week 2 matchups.

Indianapolis @ Jacksonville: This sounds crazy to say but the Colts acquired Matt Ryan to win games like this. Last season with a playoff berth on the line in Week 18, Indy lost in Jacksonville (3-14) to a bad team. That’s when they realized they had to move on from Carson Wentz and upgrade the quarterback position.

On paper it looks like the Colts have a complete team and they only need solid quarterback play to make a deep playoff run. They tied division rival Houston in Week 1, 20 – 20. Matt Ryan did throw for 352 yards and a touchdown in his debut but he also had two turnovers.

The Jaguars are coming into the season with optimism. Doug Pederson is the new head coach and he’s the man that finally brought a Super Bowl to Philadelphia. Trevor Lawrence is also expected to drastically improve in his second year in the league. The Jags lost to Washington 28 -22 to start the season.

The Colts are looking to send a message to Jacksonville and they will win convincingly.

Houston @ Denver: The Texans are expected to be a bad team but they put up a very good fight against Indy. The game ended in a tie but they did lead 20 – 3 going into the fourth quarter.

Lovie Smith is in his first year as head coach. He served as associate head coach and defensive coordinator for the Texans for the 2021 season. The defense recorded 25 takeaways in 2021, tied for tenth.

“Obviously we didn’t lose the game, but it kind of feels that way since we were up, we were doing so many good things in the beginning and then they came back,” Houston linebacker Christian Kirksey said.

Quarterback Davis Mills threw for 240 yards, 2 touchdowns, no interceptions and completed 62% of his pass attempts.

Receiver Brandon Cooks led the team with 7 receptions for 82 yards. Houston struggled running the ball, gaining 77 yards on 28 attempts.

We all know the Broncos have Russell Wilson now but I don’t think they are an elite team.

I pick Denver to win but not a blowout.

Tennessee @ Buffalo: This is a Monday Night Football game so we expect it to be good.

They played Monday night last season and the Titans won, 34 – 31. Some things have changed since last year though because the Bills are the favorite to win the AFC.

They started the season by blowing out the defending Super Bowl champion Rams on the road, 31 – 10. Josh Allen looks like he might win MVP this season.

Tennessee lost a close game to the Giants 21 – 20 so they are looking for their first win of the season. Derrick Henry played his first regular season game since his 2021 foot injury. He rushed for 82 yards on 21 carries. Ryan Tannehill is looked at as the weak link, which is why they drafter quarterback Malik Willis in the third round of the 2022 draft.

They also traded star wide receiver A.J. Brown to Philly on the first day of the draft so they are missing a key weapon.

I expect Buffalo to win by double digits.

South Games

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2022 NFL season kicks off this week. Let’s take a look at the Week 1 NFC South matchups.

New Orleans @ Atlanta: This is a classic rivalry that has been played since both teams started playing in 1966 and 1967, respectively.

The expectations for these two teams are extremely different. The Falcons traded veteran quarterback Matt Ryan in the offseason and they are in complete rebuild mode.

Marcus Mariota has taken over and he had one of the best college careers in recent memory. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2014 and led his team to the national championship game. He was the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, selected by Tennessee. Injuries and inconsistent play derailed his career. Now he’s trying to reach that potential in Atlanta.

The best pass catcher on the roster is second year tight end Kyle Pitts. The Falcons drafted wide receiver Drake London (USC) 8th overall but he got hurt in the first preseason game. They also have running back/wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who is coming off of a great 2021 season.

The Saints are replacing head coach Sean Payton who retired in the offseason. He was there since 2006 so there might be some growing pains. He was replaced with Dennis Allen, who was the team’s defensive coordinator from 2015 to 2021.

New Orleans is expected to be a playoff team if they can stay healthy. Quarterback Jameis Winston, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft is returning from an MCL sprain that ended his season in October.

Wide receiver Michael Thomas missed the entire 2021 season with a foot injury and he is also coming back.

“With Marcus Mariota, now we’ve got to go back and watch some Vegas film, maybe watch some Tennessee film,” Cameron Jordan said. “We’ve got to break down who he is because he’s not a traditional pocket passer like Matt was. This is going to change up their game a lot.”

I think the Saints win this game easily.

Carolina vs Cleveland: This is interesting because Baker Mayfield was traded from the Browns to Carolina in July. He was the Cleveland starting QB the past four seasons, until they signed Deshaun Watson in the offseason. We know he’s going to want to get revenge against his former team.

Running back Christian McCaffrey has been injured the past two seasons so he’s missed a ton of games. If he can stay healthy, he’s one of the best players in the league.

Watson is suspended the first eleven games of the season so backup Jacoby Brissett will play.

Cleveland has an elite back with Nick Chubb but I expect them to struggle on offense. I’m picking the Panthers to win.

Tampa Bay @ Dallas: This is a good Sunday night game of teams that made the playoffs last season. They also played the season opener in 2021 in Tampa.

Tom Brady is now 45 years old but his play hasn’t slowed down. The Buccaneers have had injuries to the interior of their offensive line that could cause some problems.

Receiver Chris Godwin tore his ACL in Week 15 last season. He’s making a good recovery and will possibly be ready to play Week 1. If he does the question is how will he look coming off the injury? It typically takes one year for the knee to fully recover.

I think the Bucs will win a close game against the Cowboys.

 

Ridder Respect

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

With the 74th pick in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft the Atlanta Falcons selected Desmond Ridder QB of Cincinnati.

With the selection Ridder looks like the future QB in Atlanta.

The Falcons signed Marcus Mariota as a free agent for the 2022 season. The drafting of Ridder signals that Mariota is a bridge quarterback that will play until Ridder is ready to take over the job.

I am guessing by midway through the 2022 season the reigns of the franchise will be handed over to Ridder.

Ridder is a great athlete with an above average NFL arm. He should be able to make all the throws. He ran a 4.52 forty at the NFL Combine so he will be a threat with his legs if the pocket breaks down.

Ridder has a reputation as a student of the game with tremendous work ethic. He started 48 games at Cincinnati so experience should not be an issue.

Some mock drafts had Ridder going in the bottom of the first round so the Falcons got excellent value by him being there at the 74th pick. He finished his college career with over 10,000 yards passing, 87 TD’s to only 28 interceptions. He also rushed for 2,180 yards with 28 TD’s.

He became the Bearcats’ starting quarterback as a redshirt freshman in 2018 and passed for 2,445 yards and 20 touchdowns and gained 583 yards rushing along with 5 touchdowns. He was named the American Athletic Conference (AAC) Rookie of the Year for the 2018 season.

As a redshirt sophomore in 2019, Ridder completed 179 of 325 passes for 2,164 yards and 18 touchdowns against 9 interceptions, while also rushing for 650 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Ridder was named the MVP of the 2020 Birmingham Bowl leading the Bearcats to a win over Boston College.

The 2020 season would prove to be a breakout campaign for the junior QB. Ridder was named the AAC Offensive Player of the Year after passing 2,296 yards, and 19 touchdowns with 6 interceptions, while also rushing for 592 yards and 12 touchdowns. Ritter played well in the Peach Bowl in a close loss to Georgia.

Ridder led the Bearcats to national prominence in 2021 as the No. 7 Bearcats defeated No. 9 Notre Dame on the road.

Ridder went 19-of-32 for 297 yards and 2 TDs. In addition, he rushed for 26 yards and a game-sealing fourth quarter touchdown as the Bearcats snapped the Fighting Irish’s 26-game home winning streak.

Following an unbeaten 12-0 season, Ridder and the Bearcats went into the 2021 American Athletic Conference Football Championship Game ranked number four in the AP Polls, meaning a victory would see them stay in a playoff spot.

Following a 35-20 win over the Houston Cougars, they became the first Group of Five team to make the playoffs, as well as the last major undefeated team going into the post-season. Cincinnati lost to Alabama in the college football playoff 27-6 to finish with a fine 13-1 record.

 

Career highlights and awards:

2× AAC Offensive Player of the Year (2020, 2021)

AAC Rookie of the Year (2018)

2× First team All-AAC (2020, 2021)

Birmingham Bowl MVP (2020)

 

Desmond Ridder is a deal for the Atlanta Falcons.

Excellent value/need pick in third round. He brings a quiet confidence to the QB room. He brings some intangibles to the position that the Falcons have not seen in over a decade. Those are mobility, athleticism, and youth.

The Matty Ice era in Atlanta is over. The only memories that remain are the agony of blowing a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl with 2:00 remaining in the third quarter.

Can Desmond Ridder be the next great QB in Atlanta? The jury is out on that right now, but this kid has the work ethic and talent to be an above average to great NFL Quarterback.

Making The Grade?

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The NFL Draft is over and now we have an idea of what each team will look like next year.

Several players will surprise or disappoint fans as time goes on. Let’s take a look around the NFC South and see how each team did.

Atlanta: The Falcons did a good job on not reaching for a quarterback in the first round.

They selected USC wide receiver Drake London with the 8th pick. He’s a big target at 6’3 7/8 and 219 pounds. In 8 games last season he had 88 receptions for 1,084 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Calvin Ridley is suspended the entire season so he will be the #1 receiver. He should do well paired with tight end Kyle Pitts.

In the second round they drafted Edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie (Penn State) and linebacker Troy Anderson (Montana State). In Anderson’s case I think they fell in love with measurables. He’s 6’3 ½, 243 lbs. and he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash.

Ebiketie played his first three seasons at Temple. In 2021 he had 62 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles.

They also drafted quarterback Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati), edge rusher DeAngelo Malone (Western Kentucky), running back Tyler Allgeier (BYU), guard Justin Shaffer (UGA) and tight end John FitzPatrick (UGA).

Grade: B

Carolina: The Panthers selected tackle Ikem Ekwonu (NC State) with the 6th pick.

Ekwonu is a great combination of size (6’4, 310 lbs.), power and athletic ability.

Carolina had the 31st ranked offensive line last season so this helps address a serious need.

Trades for Sam Darnold and C.J. Henderson left them light on picks.

Carolina also drafted QB Matt Corral (Ole Miss), linebacker Brandon Smith (Penn State), edge rusher Amare Barno (Va Tech), guard Cade Mays (Tennessee) and corner back Kalon Barnes (Baylor).

Getting Corral in the third round may be great value for a potential starting quarterback.

Smith should compete in the linebacker rotation.

Grade: A-

New Orleans: The Saints had two first round picks and they got WR Chris Olave (Ohio State) and tackle Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa). They should both be immediate contributors.

Trevor Penning is reminiscent of Terron Armstead as a prospect. He’s an uber-athletic tackle coming from a small school. He’ll now replace Armstead, who started 93 games for the Saints over the past nine seasons before signing with the Dolphins this offseason.

Olave was extremely productive in college and he might be the best route runner in this draft class.

The other picks were CB Alontae Taylor (Tennessee), LB D’Marco Jackson (Appalachian State) and defensive lineman Jordan Jackson (Air Force).

Grade: B+

Tampa Bay: The Bucs didn’t have a first-round pick. They had two second round picks and they got defensive lineman Logan Hall (Houston) and guard Luke Goedeke (Central Michigan).

Hall will probably begin his career as a defensive tackle but could develop into a pass-rusher. Goedeke might be the biggest sleeper among interior linemen.

They also selected RB Rachaad White (Arizona State), TE Cade Otton (Washington), kicker Jake Camarda (UGA), CB Zyon McCollum (Sam Houston State), TE Ko Kieft (Minnesota) and edge rusher Andre Anthony (LSU).

I don’t think there are any All-Pro players in this draft class. This draft is more about getting role players that can help them get back to the Super Bowl.

Grade: B

On The Clock

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

For a second straight year, the Jacksonville Jaguars will have the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. After going 1-15 in 2020 and selecting Trevor Lawrence first overall last year, the Jags went 3-14 in 2021 to finish with the worst record in the league for a second straight year.

The Jaguars have 12 total draft picks this year.

After a tumultuous few months as head coach, Urban Meyer was fired after 13 games last season. This year, Doug Pederson will lead the way in Jacksonville.

The team has been extremely active in free agency, signing WR Christian Kirk, OG Brandon Scherff, and LB Foye Oluokun to deals. The team has committed more than $175 million of guaranteed money to free agent signings.

Unlike the last four drafts, a quarterback is not likely to be the first prospect off the board in 2022. With the draft just three days away, Las Vegas has updated the odds for the No. 1 overall selection, choosing a new favorite to walk across the stage first.

“Around the NFL, there’s talk about GM Trent Baalke, and his draft history with SF,” NFL Network’s Peter Schrager said. “Year after year, the 49ers took players with incredible physical traits over the top collegiate performers. That’s Travon Walker.”

Walker has pushed out Michigan star Aidan Hutchinson from the top spot in the odds with less than a week to go before the draft in Indianapolis. Either defensive lineman would be the first non-quarterback to be selected first overall since Myles Garrett went first in the 2017.

The buzz around Walker had been growing for some time. Top minds across the NFL landscape have pointed to the possibility of hearing his name called first for a number of reasons. NFL analyst Todd McShay broke down what he likes about the Bulldogs veteran.

“I think his best football is still ahead of him,” McShay said. “He’s got to learn how to use his hands a little bit more efficiently as a pass rusher and how to finish better, kind of gather himself because he left a lot of sacks on the field – only finished with 9.5 sacks in his career. He was the dynamite out on the defensive line just taking up blocks. I always say fishing with dynamite. He’s the dynamite that goes in and blows everything up. He’s an exceptional defensive end when it comes to stopping the run. I think he’s gonna be at his best rushing the passer right away on the inside,” he continued. “The more time goes on and the more he works on his hands as a pass rusher, he’s gonna become a really good edge rusher too. I think the ceiling for him is extraordinarily high. He’s 6-(foot)-5, 272 pounds running 4.51 (40-yard dash) with 35.5-inch arms.”

Walker started all 15 games for Georgia last season, finishing with 37 tackles, six sacks with 7.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 36 quarterback hurries.

One thing is for certain, Jacksonville should draft with the philosophy of “What Helps Trevor?”

This is where we could see a surprise. So much of the spotlight right now is on edge rushers, it’s among the biggest Jacksonville Jaguars draft needs. However, the offensive line is also an area of weakness, Doug Pederson emphasized the importance of offensive line depth and versatility.

It makes Alabama offensive lineman Evan Neal and North Carolina State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu legitimate possibilities.

Ekwonu is the best run blocker in this class and could start his rookie season at guard before kicking outside to left tackle when Cam Robinson departs in 2023.

As for Neal, he’s better in pass protection and started at multiple spots during his collegiate career in Alabama.

Jacksonville you’re on the clock!

Needy Falcons

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Atlanta Falcons may not want to admit it but they are in full rebuild mode. They finished the 2021 season 7 – 10 and have the #8 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Atlanta traded quarterback Matt Ryan to Indianapolis in the offseason.

The Falcons signed Marcus Mariota but he is not a long-term solution. We are going to take a look at their biggest needs and the player they could select for that.

Wide receiver has to be the top need. Calvin Ridley is suspended the 2022 season for gambling. Before his suspension Ridley missed the majority of last season with mental health issues.

The #2 target, Russell Gage signed with division rival Tampa Bay in the offseason.

Atlanta should draft multiple pass catchers throughout the draft but if they get one in the first round, they can choose the best option.

That means Drake London (USC) or Garrett Wilson (Ohio State) will be selected, depending on which one is available.

Edge rusher is a big need. Atlanta only had 18 sacks last season which ranked last in the league. They released their best pass rusher, Dante Fowler Jr. and did little to upgrade the position in free agency.

Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux’s stock seems to be sliding as we get closer to the draft. Thibodeaux was the top player in the nation as a high school senior and he’s very talented. They may draft a great player that will have a chip on his shoulder.

Quarterback is also a big need. I thought they would have addressed that last year when they had the 4th pick and the 2021 quarterback class was deeper. They selected tight end Kyle Pitts with that pick.

This year’s QB class is not as good and none of them are actually good enough to be a top-10 pick. The top two options at the position are Kenny Pickett (Pitt) and Malik Willis. Pickett is more equipped to play immediately.

Nose tackle might also be a need. Grady Jarrett could be released or traded before Fall camp. Jarrett has been a force for Atlanta since being drafted in 2014. He does not fit well in defensive coordinator Dean Pee’s scheme. They want someone that can play in a two-gap system and bull rush up the middle.

Georgia’s Jordan Davis would be a good fit. If they wait until Day 2, UConn’s Travis Jones would be a good fit.

The last need is between tight end or running back. Head coach Arthur Smith came from Tennessee where they had star running back Derrick Henry.

The Falcons resigned Cordarrelle Patterson and retained Mike Smith. They also will not select a running back that high so they will still probably address the position later.

Smith loves to use two tight end sets. Pitts is the flex, but the Smith is going to want a more traditional player, who can be an efficient blocker while helping in the passing game.

This is likely a Day 3 selection, so keep an eye on Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson, Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar and Texas A&M’s Jalen Wydermyer as the best options.

Jaguars Draft Needs

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2022 NFL Draft will be the 87th annual meeting of National Football League franchises to select newly eligible players.

The draft is scheduled to be held in Paradise, Nevada, from April 28–30, 2022.

For the second year in a row the Jacksonville Jaguars hold the number one overall selection. The Jags are a team with many pressing needs. Let us look at the top two areas of need for the 2022 Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Wide Receiver: The Jaguars have a potential franchise quarterback in Trevor Lawrence, who they selected first overall in 2021.

They must build the offense around him and keep surrounding him with more weapons. Their wide receiver corps is good but not great.

Jacksonville paid a pile of money to sign Christian Kirk form Arizona. Kirk was never the #1 option in Arizona, but Jacksonville gave him a #1 receiver contract. We shall see how this plays out. The top five receiving prospects in this draft are:

Garrett Wilson/Ohio State University/Projected top ten pick

Jameson Williams/University of Alabama/Projected top fifteen pick

Drake London/University of Southern California/Projected top fifteen pick

Treylon Burks/University of Arkansas/Projected top fifteen pick

Chris Olave/Ohio State University/Projected First Round

 

To get one of the top five rated wide receivers the Jaguars would need to trade down in the draft for a Garrett Wilson and collect draft capital in the process.

If the top five names above, go as projected in the first round where they are slotted could Jacksonville draft former Georgia WR George Pickens with the first pick in the second round #33 to address the need at WR.

Pickens is a stud who ran 4.47 at the combine 11 months removed from a torn ACL. Pickens is a top thirty rated prospect on many NFL draft boards. This is a position of high need for Jacksonville that needs to be addressed in the first two rounds.

 

Offensive Line: The Jaguars need to replenish the offensive line in 2022. Look no further than the University of Alabama’s Evan Neal.

 

Neal’s Draft Profile:

Rating: 92.93 (All-Pro)

Pro Comparison: Bigger Andrew Thomas

Strengths: Insanely large, impossibly twitched up for his size. Carries his weight extremely well. Loose-hipped blocker with effortless power, which makes him a tremendous asset at the second level. High-end recovery skills because of his suddenness. Creates huge arc for rushers to run around to the QB. Balance could use some work. All-Pro upside and is mostly NFL ready.

Weaknesses: Can get a little overanxious at the second level and lunge, and the same is true in pass protection. Anchor is not as sturdy as expected given his size. Occasionally, small speed rushers get the best of him.

Accolades: 2021- Consensus All-America (two sacks allowed in fifteen starts)

Forty career starts (2020 CFP national champion)

Neal has been projected anywhere from the first overall pick to the fifth overall pick in most mock drafts I have seen.

I think Jacksonville should take Neal with the number one overall pick and draft the best wide receiver on their board with the first selection in second round. Then draft additional wide receivers and maybe some help secondary help in the mid to later round.

To take the next step the Jacksonville Jaguars need to provide Trevor Lawrence with some weapons, or you are setting him up for failure.

Leaving The Nest

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Is there proper etiquette to trade the best player in a franchise’s history?

There’s no written rule for something like that but I’m sure the Atlanta Falcons handled that poorly. Matt Ryan has been the starting quarterback since 2008.

Last week Atlanta was one of four finalists trying to trade for Deshaun Watson. Watson ended up being traded to Cleveland and that led to this trade. Ryan, a four-time Pro Bowler was traded to Indianapolis for a third-round pick.

“This was a difficult decision, but it was made easier by Matt’s professionalism and understanding throughout,” Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said in a statement released by the team. “Our goal in every decision is to improve our organization for the long term. We believe today’s agreement is the best long-term decision, not only for our organization, but also the best for Matt.”

The team will take a substantial $40.5 million salary cap hit in dead money to move on from Ryan and his contract.

The Colts, who are not making any changes in the contract, will have Ryan for two years at $24.7 million in 2022 and $28.2 million in 2023.

Dead money counts against the salary cap even though the player is no longer with a team. All of the bonus money paid to Ryan accelerates into this year’s salary cap for the Falcons, who were already at $20 million in dead money mostly from the Julio Jones and Dante Fowler contracts.

“This business is not without its difficult decisions, and while this is one of the most difficult decisions we have faced as a club, we feel it is in the best long-term interests of both the Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said a statement released by the team. “On behalf of the entire Falcons organization, I wish him success as he continues his career and know that he will bring the same dedication and professionalism to his next club.”

I think this was the best-case scenario for Ryan. The Colts have a good offensive line, the leading rusher from last season (Jonathan Taylor) and a top 10 defense. He will lead the Colts to the playoffs next season.

His replacement was signed less than two hours after the team announced the trade. Marcus Mariota signed a two-year contract.

Mariota, 28, was originally selected by the Titans in the first round (second overall) of the 2015 NFL draft from Oregon. He completed 1,128 of 1,795 attempts (62.8%) for 13,437 yards, 77 touchdowns and 45 interceptions for an 89.5 passer rating in 74 games (61 starts) for the Titans and Raiders.

He has also rushed for 1,574 yards on 264 attempts (6.0 avg.) and 13 touchdowns. He has been the backup with the Raiders the past two seasons after his final season with the Titans in 2019.

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was tight ends coach and offensive coordinator with the Titans when Mariota was in Tennessee.

Atlanta is in full rebuild mode. The question now is will they draft a quarterback with the No. 8 pick in this year’s draft or will they wait until next year?

This year’s quarterback class is considered weak so I believe the goal is to tank this season, so they get a high draft pick in 2023.

Wanna Bet On It

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley has made the headlines for a negative reason.

Ridley stepped away from football on Halloween, saying he needed to get his personal life in order.

He gambled on NFL games in 2021 and he has been suspended for at least the 2022 season.

The NFL released a statement Monday announcing his suspension, saying Ridley gambled on games over a five-day stretch in November 2021 when he was on the non-football injury list to address his mental health.

In a series of tweets, Monday after the suspension was announced, Ridley said he bet $1,500 total and that “I don’t have a gambling problem.” He also tweeted that he couldn’t even watch football at the time he made the bets. He added that he’s just going to “be more healthy when I come back” and that “I know I was wrong But I’m getting 1 year lol.”

The NFL determined that Ridley placed multilegged parlay bets involving three, five and eight games that included the Falcons to win via his mobile device out of state, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

“There is nothing more fundamental to the NFL’s success — and to the reputation of everyone associated with our league — than upholding the integrity of the game,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to Ridley notifying him of his suspension. “This is the responsibility of every player, coach, owner, game official, and anyone else employed in the league. Your actions put the integrity of the game at risk, threatened to damage public confidence in professional football, and potentially undermined the reputations of your fellow players throughout the NFL.”

“For decades, gambling on NFL games has been considered among the most significant violations of league policy warranting the most substantial sanction. In your case, I acknowledge and commend you for your promptly reporting for an interview, and for admitting your actions.”

The NFL said its investigation uncovered no evidence that Ridley used inside information or “that any game was compromised in any way.” There also was no evidence that any of the Falcons’ coaches, staff or players were aware of his betting activity.

The earliest Ridley can apply for reinstatement is Feb. 15, 2023, the NFL said. He also can appeal the suspension by filing notice within three days, per the collective bargaining agreement. It is not known if he has appealed the punishment.

Multiple NFL teams reached out to the Falcons in recent weeks to inquire about trading for Ridley, and each time, Atlanta declined to enter into talks out of good faith, knowing the issues in store for their standout wide receiver.

Ridley’s contract will toll until 2023 and come off the books for 2022, opening up $11.1 million in salary-cap room for the Falcons.

Ridley was a disappointment last season because he only played a few games. It was his first season without Julio Jones because he was traded to Tennessee. Having a player not play for reasons that are not related to an injury is hard for a team to deal with.                                 The Falcons only have one receiver from the 53-man roster last season under contract; rookie Frank Darby.

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