Tony Gonzalez Retirement: TE Is First-Ballot HOFer Whether He Returns or Not

Richard LangfordCorrespondent IFebruary 20, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 20:  Tony Gonzalez #88 of the Atlanta Falcons walks off of the field dejected after the Falcons lost 28-24 against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on January 20, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

While it is uncertain if Tony Gonzalez will return for a 17th season, it is certain that the legend is worthy of Hall of Fame induction. 

For Gonzalez, it isn't a question of if he'll get in—it's a question of when.

With that being said, that debate can be put to bed right now: He is going to get in on the first ballot.

That accomplishment is unprecedented. No tight end has ever made it in on the first ballot. Shannon Sharpe, who was the league's most prolific tight end prior to Gonzalez (and who has three Super Bowl rings), didn't get in until his third try. 

The Hall of Fame is just curiously stingy with tight ends. Only eight modern-era tight ends are in the Hall. Of the positions that don't involve kicking the ball, only fullbacks are more lightly represented. 

However, Tony Gonzalez has revolutionized the way tight ends are used and perceived, and that will go all the way to Canton. 

The 37-year-old essentially owns every receiving record for a tight end that you'd care to look at, and it's not particularly close. 

Gonzalez currently has 1,242 catches for 14,268 yards and 103 touchdowns. That is over 400 more catches, over 4,000 more yards and 41 touchdowns better than Shannon Sharpe. 

In fact, his numbers are so staggering that they compare with the elite wide receivers. Only Jerry Rice has caught more passes than Gonzalez, only five players have ever caught more touchdowns and there are just six who have more receiving yards. 

On top of all of this, Gonzalez has been a consummate professional. He has been a great teammate who has always played the game the right way and with heart. 

Whether he retires this offseason, next offseason or five years from now, there will be no arguing that he is the best tight end to ever step on the field, and the Hall of Fame will recognize this by inducting him in on the first ballot.