With the twenty-sixth pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons selected Calvin Ridley. Four years later, in the middle of the 2022 season, he’s traded to Jacksonville. Now, after being reinstated back into the NFL, he’s looking to make the Jaguars a serious playoff contender.

Ridley, who is currently 28 years old, has been battling adversity all his life.

Kicking off his football career with 64 receptions for 821 yards and ten touchdowns in his rookie season, many Falcons fans grew excited that their team had selected a potential star with the twenty-sixth pick of that year’s NFL draft. He followed up his stellar rookie season with 63 catches for 866 yards and seven touchdowns, having played three fewer games in 2019. Then, during his breakout season in 2020, a season in which he played 15 games, Ridley finally registered his first 1,000-yard season in the league, accumulating 90 receptions for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns, while gaining worldwide recognition as one of the top wide receivers in the league.

The following season, after having played only five games in 2021, the Falcons announced that Ridley would be out the following week due to “personal reasons,” and then continued to rule him out week by week for the remainder of the season. It was later revealed that Ridley left the team in order to go and focus on his “mental well-being.”

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At the time, no one knew exactly what Ridley had been dealing with, but respected the fact that he was trying to set his mind right and focus on getting himself better.

In early March 2022, before the NFL season began, it was announced that Ridley had been suspended indefinitely as a result of him violating the NFL’s gambling policy and would remain out of the league for at least the 2022 NFL season.

Fans were devastated when the news broke. After sending former teammate Julio Jones to the Tennessee Titans, Ridley was viewed as the clear alpha dog receiver in Atlanta. Everyone knew from his mighty 2020 breakout season the elite potential that resided in Ridley. Following that tremendous fifteen-game stretch of his career, many argued that Ridley was the number one route runner in the entire NFL. Period. That year, he was so dominant, in fact, that in early November 2022, the Jacksonville Jaguars were willing to pull the trigger and make a trade to acquire Ridley before the NFL trade deadline passed, even though they weren’t fully certain when Ridley may have been allowed to play another game in the NFL.

In February 2023, Ridley applied for reinstatement. On March 6, the NFL officially announced his reinstatement back into the league. However, many Jacksonville fans are still concerned that after sitting out from the game for over a full season and a half, Ridley may not come back the same player he was.

In an attempt to assuage these worries and shed some light on all that’s happened with Ridley since deciding to leave his team after week five of the 2021 NFL season, Ridley wrote an article in the Player’s Tribune, detailing the immense challenges he’s faced over the past few years and his great regret for what he described as “the worst mistake of my life.”

The very first thing Ridley wrote about in his letter is an admission of guilt. He knows that he “f—ed up.”

“This is hard for a dude like me to talk about,” Ridley expressed in the beginning of his article. “But I want to be real with everybody. Back then, I was depressed. I was battling anxiety. I didn’t even want to leave my house. Football was the only thing that ever gave my life meaning, and I couldn’t even find any joy in that at the time. Honestly, I couldn’t even get up off the chair in my living room. Everything was just … dark.”

In discussing the beginning of his battle with depression, Ridley proclaimed that it started back in 2020, the year he firmly established himself as one of the league’s premier receivers.

During his first two seasons in the NFL, Ridley wrote how he played through bone spurs and got himself through it with painkillers. In the middle of year three, however, during week eight, Ridley recalled looking at his former teammate Julio Jones and recognizing that something was seriously off. When he received his MRI though, his trainer had informed him that it was only a bone bruise. Ridley continued to play for the remainder of the season, taking Toradol shots every Sunday before game time. He was determined to not miss games just because of a bruise.

It wasn’t until after the season when the entire staff got fired and a new trainer came in, that Ridley got sent to a specialist in Green Bay, who informed him that his foot was indeed broken, which meant that Ridley had been playing with a broken foot for the majority of the 2020 season.

When Ridley discovered the news, he was distraught. Ridley recalled how it was only a couple of months before the beginning of the 2021 season. He acknowledged that he was the number one weapon on his team now with Julio traded to Tennessee, and recalled that he felt he was under a mountain of pressure. He got the recommended surgery and came back to play as soon as he was cleared, but showed up to training camp “mentally drained.” He even recalled struggling to plant his foot into the ground at camp, constantly reminding himself that if he took a pill, he could run at his normal speed.

When he’d arrive home after the games, Ridley’s two-year-old daughter would come charging up to him with an abundance of energy and excitement. However, Ridley was coming home feeling shattered and broken. He remembered not even being able to do anything other than lie down in a dark room by himself.

That’s the first time Ridley knew something was clearly wrong. He felt the anxiety settling in hard and fast, but decided to shake it off and play through the season with more shots and pills. As a leader of his team, Ridley felt determined to do his job and “grit it out.” However, suiting up for week one of the 2021 season, Ridley stated how he felt like “a shell of myself, but I played.”

Following the game, Ridley arrived back home with his wife and daughter, only to notice a large group of people piled up outside his home. His front door had been kicked into and police cars were all over the street.

Ridley and his family quickly discovered that their house had been robbed. Ridley recalled him and his wife being relatively calm at first, recognizing everything stolen were items that could be replaced. However, when they took a good look at the security footage and noticed a group of men entering their home armed with guns, Ridley recalled being shaken up. His wife was traumatized and couldn’t sleep at night for some time following the incident. She couldn’t stand it when her husband had left home.

That’s when Ridley began to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Following the incident, Ridley went back to focusing on football. However, when he entered into the team facility and was reminded that everyone was getting prepared to go and play in London, he realized he didn’t want to leave his family behind. That’s when he finally broke down and informed the team that he needed to spend some time away from the game.

Ridley began speaking to a therapist almost immediately after, diving in deep to all that’d been swimming rapidly upon his mind. They spoke about certain things Ridley claimed he wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about to his own family.

Since the age of eight years old, when he and his three younger brothers were dropped off at a foster home, Ridley has led a challenging life. When he and his siblings would ask what’d been going on, all they were told was ‘Your mom and dad went away for a while. You need to stay here.” That’s when Ridley first developed his true passion for the physical sport, claiming “that’s when football really saved my life.”

Making it into the NFL was “life-changing” for Ridley. In his article apologizing for tarnishing the game, Ridley stated that he “f—-ed up. Period. It was in a dark moment. I wasn’t trying to cheat the game.”

Anytime he would get asked what was he thinking when deciding to violate the NFL’s gambling policy and placing bets on his own team, the only answer he’d give is “I wasn’t.”

“When you’re depressed, you’re not thinking about anything in the future,” Ridley proclaimed. “You’re just trying to get through the day.”

Reflecting over the time when the NFL investigators had brought him in, Ridley recalled that it “was probably the worst day of my life. Seeing my mom googling my name … and everything people were saying about her son…. That broke me down, man. But honestly, maybe I had to go through all of it. Maybe I had to hit rock bottom so I could get healthy. Thank God, with the help of my therapist, I was able to understand what was happening to me. I learned the names for the things that I was feeling — stress, depression, anxiety — and how to cope with those emotions.”

Now, Ridley claims he’s stronger than he’s ever felt before, both mentally and physically. Born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Ridley is happy to be back home where his dream of making it to the NFL first started, and with a clean slate. He’s happy to go back to playing the sport he loves.

“Football saved my life. It’s still my purpose. I still love it, maybe now more than ever.”

Ridley went on to claim that if healthy, he’ll deliver 1,400 yards a season for Jacksonville fans. “Period.”

Although accumulating that many yards after sitting out of football for over a year and half, all while having to learn a brand new playbook in an entirely new offensive scheme would be a mighty tall task, Ridley recognized that he has “a debt to pay back to the game.”

When people talk about the name Calvin Ridley in a decade or two from now, Ridley is determined to do everything he can to ensure that “it rings out for the right reasons.”

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