Jaguars better off keeping Calvin Ridley than signing a WR in free agency

• The Jaguars need to do what they can to keep WR Calvin Ridley in 2024.

Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley (0) celebrates his touchdown against the Tennessee
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley (0) celebrates his touchdown against the Tennessee / Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA

Free agency is inching closer and the Jacksonville Jaguars will need to choose what to do with Calvin Ridley. However, he's not the only wide receiver they'll need to make a decision on. Zay Jones is entering the last year of the contract he signed in 2022 and could be a cap casualty. Just recently, Kevin Patra of NFL Media took a look at the state of the Jags' wide receiver corps and shared his thoughts on it.

Patra assessed every NFL team's situation at receiver. He argues that keeping Ridley won't come cheap but he thinks that shouldn't stop the Jaguars from re-signing him.

"The Calvin Ridley situation is a tricky one. The club currently owes Atlanta a 2024 third-round pick as part of its trade to acquire Ridley, which would become a second-rounder if the club inks the wideout to an extension before March 13. That's a steep add after Ridley had an up-and-down first campaign in Jacksonville. But losing him in free agency makes the offense notably worse, unless the Jags can replace his talent elsewhere. "

Ridley, a first-round pick in the 2018 draft, spent the 2022 season serving a suspension for betting on NFL games. Even though he wasn't eligible to play at the time, the Jaguars traded for him. He was granted his reinstatement last March and spent no time showing he was still the same game-changer he was early in his career.

Although Ridley had a handful of quiet games in 2023, he also gave the Jaguars a true No. 1 receiver. Despite the fact that he hadn't played in more than a year, he hauled in 76 receptions for a team-best 1,016 yards with eight touchdowns. On top of that, he led the league in defensive pass interference calls with eight. While his communication with Trevor Lawrence wasn't always the best, it's fair to assume their rapport will get much better if they spend another offseason together.

In fact, Lawrence has publicly stated that he wants the Jaguars to bring back Ridley. Similarly, general manager Trent Baalke said he would like the Alabama product to return. But as Patra pointed out, giving him an extension won't be as straightforward as the Jags would surely like. As it is, they already owe Atlanta a third-round pick after he met certain playing conditions last year. If they re-sign him before free agency starts in May, it will be then a second-round pick.

2-round pick or not, the Jaguars must re-sign Calvin Ridley

Moving on from Zay Jones would create a need at wide receiver but keeping Calvin Ridley should be a bigger priority. The Jaguars can work around the trade and keep Ridley without giving up a second-rounder. They could use the franchise tag on him, but they would need to get outside linebacker Josh Allen under contract before free agency starts, which won't probably happen.

An alternative would be to let the Florida native hit the open market and then re-sign him. The downside of that strategy is that other teams could lure him away. But even if Jacksonville has to part ways with the second-round pick to retain Ridley, it beats the alternatives.

It would make sense to let Ridley walk if Tee Higgins were available in free agency but he's expected to get the franchise tag. Similarly, Michael Pittman Jr. will likely re-sign with the Indianapolis Colts, leaving Mike Evans as the best option in free agency. The trouble with going after Evans is that he wants a top-market contract, so he'll probably exceed the Jaguars' spending budget.

Without many options in free agency, the Jaguars could inquire about Brandon Aiyuk but that could turn out to be costly. The San Francisco 49ers will surely demand premium compensation (e.g. a first-round pick). On top of that, they'll probably need to give him a new contract to pull off a trade. When you take into account that the Jags have other needs, it may not be feasible.

The draft is another route to find Ridley's replacement. But as promising as this year's receiver class looks, there's no guarantee Jacksonville will come out with a game-changer. For this reason, the Jaguars should do what they can to keep Ridley.

When you take a look at all the paths the Jaguars can take, the best one is to re-sign Ridley, even if they have to give up the second-rounder.

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