The just-over-three-week timetable is neither a league nor a team mandate, but if Gonzalez wants to put the Falcons in the best possible situation to succeed—and he’s shown over the years that winning is the only thing that matters to him—he has to give the Falcons enough time to make decisions on how to move forward.
Gonzalez said in July, before the 2012 season started, that he was 95 percent sure he was going to retire at the end of the season. After the Falcons beat the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round of the playoffs, netting Gonzalez his first-career playoff win, tight end Michael Palmer told USA Today that Gonzalez said he shifted his almost assured retirement status to 97 percent.
Gonzalez was very vocal that he was ready to be a family man and that he wanted to do the “dad thing” more often. He even hinted that he was ready to do some network television work in the future. If the 95 percent status wasn’t strong enough, his upgraded figure and statements prior to the NFC Championship game left little hope Gonzalez would return in 2013.
But general manager Thomas Dimitroff held out hope and started working on convincing Gonzalez to return for one more year. Dimitroff told Pro Football Talk on NBC Sports on Feb. 14 that he felt Gonzalez had shifted his percentage to “a lot closer to 50/50.”
ESPN analyst Ed Werder tweeted Tuesday that a source close to Gonzalez told him Gonzalez would return to Atlanta if the circumstances were right.
Source says Tony Gonzalez wavering on retirement. A player close to him: "I think if the circumstances are right, Tony will come back.''— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) February 19, 2013
The back and forth is kind of fun to watch, as is the mystique around watching an NFL franchise court the best tight end to ever play the game. But there’s a hard deadline on getting things squared away.
The only thing that matters to Gonzalez is winning a Super Bowl, and that’s definitely the type of circumstance Werder’s source would be referring to (that and maybe some extra time off to spend time with his family on the West Coast). For the Falcons to put together the best possible team for that Super Bowl run, Gonzalez must tell the team by March 12 that he plans to return.
March 12 is the starting date of the NFL free-agency period. Atlanta can’t go into that period, or worse yet the NFL draft in April, not knowing if Gonzalez is going to play or retire.
If Gonzalez wants to win a Super Bowl, and do so in Atlanta (he’ll technically be a free agent and can sign with anyone), the Falcons need to spend any available money shoring up line on both sides of the football, or possibly targeting a free-agent running back or linebacker.
If Gonzalez chooses to retire, I’m of the opinion that Atlanta has to find a receiver (or tight end) via free agency that can pull down 70 passes a year. Those guys don’t grow on trees.
But if Gonzalez is returning, Atlanta can spend its money wisely, elsewhere.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.