Tony Gonzalez's Likely Return Means Falcons Must Turn Attention to Defense

Richard Langford@@noontide34Correspondent IMarch 10, 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

The Atlanta Falcons are on the verge of checking off priority No. 1 on the to-do list for this offseason as tight end Tony Gonzalez is reportedly favoring a return to the gridiron for a 17th NFL season.

Now, Atlanta must turn their attention to bolstering their defense to help ensure Gonzalez's return is not in vain.

According to USA Today's Jim Corbett, "a person familiar with Gonzalez's thinking" has said Gonzalez has a "a pretty darn good chance" of returning. 

Obviously, this is far from a written guarantee that Gonzalez will be back. However, there is yet more evidence to suggest Gonzalez's return is simply a matter of negotiations. 

Yahoo! Sports' Michael Silver reported that Gonzalez is looking for an increased salary and the option of passing up training camp before committing to returning. 

While there is still some work to do at the bargaining table, it appears the Falcons will have the future Hall of Famer at their disposal—should they decide to meet his demands. 

This allows them to turn their attention to completing their team, which was just five points away from reaching the Super Bowl.

The Falcons have to fix their defense if this team is going to take the next step.

Atlanta was 23rd in pass defense and 21st in rush defense last season. They were even worse in averages as they were 28th in yards per rush and per pass.

The Falcons made a solid move, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, by locking up strong safety William Moore with a five-year deal. However, the team still has to add talent. 

This has to start in the trenches. 

Defensive end John Abraham was the only Falcons player with more than four sacks a season ago, and he was cut

Atlanta must find an end to help replace some of Abraham's production, and they would be wise to do so with their first pick (No. 30) in the upcoming draft. 

The Falcons can't stop there, either. They could use some extra muscle on the interior of the line. They could also use more depth, at the very least, at linebacker. Depending on what they decide to do with cornerback Brent Grimes, they will have to address the secondary, too.

Atlanta can't enter next season with this many question marks on defense. They have to go defense heavy in the draft to give themselves the chance to take the franchise to new heights in what is looking like Tony Gonzalez's final season.