Falcons need Gonzalez back next season

sports@macon.comJanuary 22, 2013 

After the shock of Sunday’s excruciating loss wears off, the Atlanta Falcons will focus on building a roster for next year that will need to improve on the 2012 season.

Fans might not accept anything less. The upward trend that has been going on for five years cannot take a step backwards.

Atlanta finally got over the hump this year with a playoff win. Now, the trick for general manager Thomas Dimitroff will be to have a roster in place that can do even more in 2013.

For a team that did so well this season, there are a lot of questions moving forward. The Falcons have to figure out if they are going to release Michael Turner and get someone younger to be the featured running back. They need another pass rusher and have other free agents to deal with.

No decision will mean more about the Falcons’ potential to have another special season than at tight end. Tony Gonzalez has said he’s “probably” going to retire. He stopped putting a percentage on it, even though he earlier used 95 percent as the likelihood this season was his final one.

The question everyone has is why Gonzalez would retire right now. Sure, there is respect for someone who just feels like he has done all he can do and especially if he simply is ready to go home to be with his kids.

But there’s one little problem. Gonzalez can still play ... at an elite level.

He is the best tight end to ever play the game. Shannon Sharpe, Kellen Winslow and Dave Casper were all great, but Gonzalez is simply the best.

But forget about Gonzalez being the best of all-time. He might be the best tight end in football right now.

Gonzalez is not like Chipper Jones was in his final season -- a shell of his former self who could still deliver some moments but struggled to do it regularly. It hurt Jones that his sport played every day. Gonzalez has a little more time for his body to recover than Jones had.

Gonzalez was third in receiving yards by a tight end this season with 930, behind Jason Witten of Dallas and Jimmy Graham of New Orleans. There are other great tight ends, like Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Vernon Davis. But would you take any of these players over Gonzalez? No way.

Gonzalez will be 37 years old next month. That itself explains why he says he wants to retire. But he knows more than anyone that he can still play. He knows the type of catches he had this season, and he knows he’ll be a threat on that field until he does actually walk off for the final time.

If Gonzalez does retire, the Falcons will scramble for a replacement. But no one they could get in the draft could have the impact of Gonzalez. And for a team that needs to do even better next season than it did this year, any new tight end would be a downgrade.

This window to possibly win a Super Bowl can close quickly. With Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones, the Falcons have the best trio of targets in the NFL. But if Gonzalez leaves, it might make it a bit more difficult for the Falcons to be as dangerous.

They just have to hope after Gonzalez gets back home, he’ll realize how close this team was to a Super Bowl and how much better of a chance the Falcons will have if he returns next season. Plus, maybe he’ll realize how good he still is.

Perhaps White and Jones can text him every day expressing how much they want him back. Maybe they can buy a billboard down the street from his house with a similar message. Do anything to get him back in Atlanta for one more season.

The Falcons had a very good team this season, but for them to be great in 2013, they need their tight end back for one more year.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on twitter@yahoo.com.

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