Guerry Clegg commentary: Falcons need Gonzalez to return

sports@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 19, 2013 

So it has come to my attention from a source of impeccable reliability (Facebook) that Atlanta Falcons' tight end Tony Gonzalez is leaving the door open to playing one more season. Gonzalez has said he's "95 percent sure" he will retire. OK, so those are not overwhelmingly comforting odds for the Falcons. Still, the 5 percent chance that he will reconsider to chase that elusive Super Bowl ring is better than nothing.

As far back as three weeks ago, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff told ESPN he was pushing to get Gonzalez to reconsider.

"A guy who is 36 catching 100-plus balls (including the postseason), it just doesn't seem like it's time for him to move on," Dimitroff told ESPN.

At the time, that seemed like little more than wishful thinking. But Tuesday, the notion took on new life when ESPN's Ed Werder reported that "virtually everyone" in the Falcons organization is trying to talk Gonzalez into coming back for one more season. By "virtually," he probably means everybody other than the backup tight ends. Werder added that Dimitroff has placed the odds of Gonzalez's return more like 50-50. I'm not sure how you measure such things, but anything better than 5 percent is encouraging.

Soon after, CBSsports.com reported the same, followed by Yahoo! And several other sports blogs. And then it hit Twitter, and if that doesn't make it official I don't know what does.

Shannon Sharpe tweeted, "I don't think he's as done as he says he is. I think he's more 60-40 to come back."

Hey, that's a 10-percent improvement in the span of an internet minute. At that rate, Gonzalez might be up to 125 percent sure he's coming back by the time you read this.

Teammate Roddy White is doing his part, campaigning publically as well as privately for Gonzalez to take one last lap around the league.

"We're Brett Favre-ing him," White told Fox Sports. "We're going down there as a team, all 53 players. We need to go down to California and get Tony to come back."

This would be no ceremonial lap. Gonzalez caught 107 passes last season, including 14 in two postseason games. There was none bigger -- arguably the biggest of his Hall of Fame career -- than the one that set up the game-winning field goal against Seattle. They fell agonizingly short of reaching the Super Bowl, stalling at the San Francisco 10-yard line after a pair of incomplete passes.

They need Gonzalez

back for the obvious reason, that he's still one of the best tight ends in the game. His presence over the middle creates opportunities for White and Julio Jones. He's a big reason the Falcons are among the best teams in the league in third-down conversions.

But they need him back for a less obvious reason. They need more playmakers on defense. Granted, one player wouldn't magically transform the Falcons' defense into the '85 Bears. But the defense, as troubled as it was, was still nearly adequate enough to get the Falcons to the Super Bowl. If Gonzalez retires, there's a good chance Dimitroff will draft a tight end in the first round. They need to devote that resource to defense, especially if they change their scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4. This year's draft, according to all the analysts, is heavy on defensive players.

It's realistic to think there could be a rookie or two who make a difference, especially if they have to contend with Seattle's Russell Wilson and/or San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick again in the playoffs.

What better way to end a Hall of Fame career than to walk off as a Super Bowl champion. Ask Ray Lewis.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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