ATLANTA (AP) — For endangering the integrity of the sport by betting on games, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley has been suspended by the NFL for at least the next season.
Ridley won’t play in 2022 and there is no guarantee for the NFL future of the player who had been expected to be the Falcons’ top target for quarterback Matt Ryan.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday suspended Ridley after a league investigation determined Ridley bet on NFL games in 2021 while away from the team addressing mental health concerns. The league says the suspension will carry “through at least the conclusion of the 2022 season.”
The NFL says the betting took place during a five-day period in late November 2021. Ridley was placed on the non-football illness list following Week 8 last season, which ended Nov. 1.
Ridley wrote on his Twitter account on Monday “I bet 1500 total I don't have a gambling problem.”
He also seemed to take a light-hearted approach to his suspension when he added in another post “I know I was wrong But I'm getting 1 year lol.” He also said “Just gone be more healthy when I come back.”
Ridley defended himself in another tweet when he said “If you know me you know my character.”
A league investigation uncovered no evidence inside information was used or that any game was compromised by Ridley’s betting, Goodell's announcement said. Nor was there evidence suggesting Falcons coaches, players or staff were aware of Ridley’s betting activity.
Ridley may petition for reinstatement after Feb. 23, 2023.
During the offseason, the Falcons have had no update on Ridley's status. The team released a statement Monday in which it said it cooperated with the league's investigation in the last month.
“We were first made aware of the league’s investigation on Feb. 9,” the Falcons said in the statement. "We have cooperated fully with the investigation since receiving notice, and support the league’s findings and actions. We are moving forward in the 2022 season with the decision that was made. With the decision that was made by the NFL, any further questions on the investigation should be directed to the league office.”
In a letter from Goodell to Ridley, the commissioner said:
“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.
"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.”
Even before the suspension, Ridley's future with the Falcons was in doubt. He sat out the final two months of the season after he was a last-minute scratch before the team’s 19-13 loss to Carolina on Oct. 31.
On that day, Ridley explained his absence when he wrote on his Twitter account “I need to step away from football at this time and focus on my mental well being.”
Ridley had posted no update on his Twitter account until Friday, when he posted an icon of a football and added “is life.” On Sunday, he added another update “I learn from my Ls.”
The Falcons’ 2018 first-round draft pick had 90 catches for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020. Ridley was expected to be Ryan’s top playmaker after Julio Jones was traded to Tennessee before the 2021 season. But Ridley had only 31 receptions for 281 yards and two touchdowns in his shortened season.
The Falcons had been approximately $7.3 million over the salary cap for 2022. They will be able to remove Ridley’s $11.1 million salary from their payroll for the season, moving them under the cap. That contract shifts to 2023, when Ridley would have been a free agent.
The suspension of Ridley could impact Atlanta's plans for free agency and the NFL draft. Wide receiver now becomes a position of need, and the team could place a greater emphasis on re-signing free agent Russell Gage. Rookie tight end Kyle Pitts and Gage were Atlanta's leading receivers last season.
This is not the first gambling suspension meted out by Goodell. He suspended Arizona Cardinals cornerback Josh Shaw in November 2019 for gambling on an NFL game. Shaw has not played in the league since his suspension; he missed 21 games of the 2019 and 2020 schedules.
The most famous disciplining of NFL players for gambling came in 1963 when then-commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended star running back Paul Hornung of Green Bay and defensive tackle of Alex Karras of Detroit — both now Hall of Famers. Each was sidelined for that season, with Rozelle citing bets on league games and associating with gamblers or “known hoodlums.”
Twenty years later, Rozelle suspended Colts quarterback Art Schlichter, who was in just his second pro season.
“Schlichter will not be reinstated,” Rozelle said, ″until the league can be solidly assured that the serious violations of cardinal NFL rules he has committed will not be repeated."
Schlichter was reinstated and played for 1984 and ‘85. But he couldn’t kick the gambling habit and eventually wound up in prison for a multimillion dollar ticketing scam.
Frank Filchock and Merle Hapes of the New York Giants were suspended by then-commissioner Bert Bell for not reporting attempted bribes, particularly for the 1946 championship game. Filchock actually played in that game, which the Giants lost 24-14 to the Bears, but Hapes was not allowed to take the field.
Subsequently, both were suspended. Filchock didn’t return to the NFL until 1950 with Baltimore, though he played parts of four seasons in Canada. Hapes never played another NFL game.
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