Tony Gonzalez is coming back in 2013 according to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports. This return makes Atlanta the NFL's new "Team of Destiny", the same way the Baltimore Ravens were so anointed after Ray Lewis announced his final year in 2012.
This return signifies huge news for the Falcons. There was question as to if Gonzalez wanted to come back after saying he was 95 percent ready to retire all year long. In Glazer's report, Gonzalez talked about his decision:
After discussing it with my family and really, truly struggling with this decision, I informed the Falcons that I would like to return for one more shot...Considering how this season ended, I wanted to give it another run with Matt (Ryan), Smitty (head coach Mike Smith) and the guys we have in there. It was the first time I had won a playoff game and hopefully coming back once more we can take it one step further...I was done, I thought I had my mind made up. This whole year I knew it would be my last, but the way our final game ended and talking to all the guys in the locker room, in the end it was too difficult of a way for me to step away from the game. It's not often in a career you're around a group like we have down in Atlanta.
When a guy wants to come back for one more shot, he has to feel the conviction from the team to win it all. The Falcons have built a culture of winning and the legendary tight end has been a huge part of the change in attitude.
This news has already made his teammates happy. The responses on twitter can be summed up by Thomas DeCoud:
TOOOE-NEEEEE G!!!...TOOOE-NEEEE G!!!...TOOOE-NEEEE G!!!... RUT ROH (Scooby Doo Voice)
—Thomas DeCoud (@TwentyAte28) March 12, 2013
And Falcon players weren't the only ones expressing their happiness. Jay Adams of the Falcons' official website relayed approving quotes by general manager happy Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith:
Dimitroff: "Tony has been vital to our success over the last four seasons and we are excited that he has decided to return for a fifth."
—Jay Adams (@FalconsJAdams) March 12, 2013
Smith: "(Tony) has been a key component to our success over his four years and it is great to have the opportunity to coach him for a fifth"
— Jay Adams (@FalconsJAdams) March 12, 2013
And the truth is that the Falcons have gone 45-19 since the 2009 trade for Gonzalez in large part due to his leadership. The greatest tight end to play the game has been a huge part of the Falcons recent success, and getting him back is crucial.
As far as his contract demands are concerned, the rumors that he wanted to sit out training camp seem a bit less selfish than first perceived. Gonzalez told Fox Sports about his role as a father and why asking or a reduced training camp made sense for him:
The Falcons were great about that fact and how important my commitments are as a dad...Smitty has always been great with working with us when it comes to family. There are things I promised Nikko that the team is going work with me on so I can keep my promise to my son. That was a huge thing for me and they couldn't have been more understanding. They really are a family organization. Not sure what the dates are yet but at least I know I can be there for things I promised my son I would be there for.
No one can blame someone for putting their family first. It's almost why Gonzalez chose to retire instead of come back. However, when he does retire, he'll have more than enough time to spend with his family. And he can still go into the studio on Sundays as a broadcaster.
Tony Gonzalez returning makes the fans all the happier
After fans lobbied all offseason to try and persuade Tony Gonzalez to come back, they are ecstatic to see him returning. Whitney Hunt and Sheena Phelps represent just a small sampling of the average Falcon fan's reaction to this news:
—Whitney(@WhitneyHunt1129) March 12, 2013
— Sheena Phelps (@SheenaPhelps) March 12, 2013
The tweets, facebook messages and posts didn't get lost in the shuffle; Gonzalez cited them as something that touched him when he was making his decision:
I have to say also I was pretty overwhelmed by the fans and how much they reached out to me. It was really something. They sent me all these videos, posts on twitter, Facebook, things like that—a bunch of different messages hoping I would return. Really makes you put things in perspective.
So Falcons fans, pat yourselves on the back, you are a big reason as to why Tony decided to return to the Falcons. It's always easier to return somewhere that you are not only wanted but loved the way Gonzalez is.
Even though Tony is returning, Falcons should still draft a tight end
Despite the fact that Tony Gonzalez is returning to the Falcons, they should still take a tight end at some point in the draft. The draft this year is extremely deep, so I have to agree with Jay Clemons of Fox Sports here:
Still a good year for the #Falcons to draft a tight end...
—Jay Clemons (@FOX_JayClemons) March 12, 2013
Now, that doesn't mean they have to take someone early in the draft. They don't have to spend a first- or even a second-round pick on a talented pass-catching tight end, but Aaron Freeman of FalcFans.com makes another great point:
Gonzo's return probably nixes possibility of Falcons using top pick on TE like Eifert. But for 1 season, that would be an amazing combo.
—Aaron Freeman (@falcfans) March 12, 2013
That combo plus Chase Coffman and Michael Palmer would give Atlanta a ridiculously deep group of tight ends. However, don't expect the Falcons to spend their first-round pick on a tight end. It makes much more sense for Atlanta to go with one later on in the draft.
And by later on, I mean as late as the fifth or even sixth round. There are quite a few players in that range like Zach Sudfeld—a 6'6" 261-pound former basketball player from Nevada—and Justice Cunningham—a 6'3", 258-pound Alge Crumpler-style player out of South Carolina.
The Falcons would be unlikely to take someone in the first three rounds because of the lack of an urgent need. Nonetheless, the idea to take someone who has high potential, but should fall to the fifth or sixth round could be the plan that Falcons GM Dimitroff has at this point.
Despite age, Gonzalez is still a matchup nightmare for defenses
Tony Gonzalez is 37 years old. Yet, he's still one of the best tight ends in the NFL. Matt Miller rated him as the No. 5 tight end in the league. Gonzalez opens up the offense for the Falcons by allowing Roddy White and Julio Jones more single coverage on the outside.
Schematically, Matt Bowen of the National Football Post underlines the importance of the move:
—Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) March 12, 2013
The problem is that safeties and linebackers still can't match up well with the Falcons tight end. He had 107 catches for 1,059 yards and 10 touchdowns including his playoff performances. Of those, 66 catches were over the middle between 0 and 20 yards from the line of scrimmage, according to Pro Football Focus (membership required).
That's the area that tight ends are designed to attack and Gonzalez had 61.6 percent of his catches in that area. Even more, he had 716 yards or 67.6 percent of his yards this season in that same region. Add in the eight touchdowns that he scored in the space that's guarded primarily by linebackers and safeties, and you have the scariest target over the middle of the field in the NFL.
That matchup nightmare that Gonzalez provides has led Matt Ryan to find Julio Jones and Roddy White on the outside much easier. The overall offense has improved every year due to the Falcons finding more ways to utilize combo routes based around the mismatches Gonzalez creates.
Falcons became the "Team of Destiny" when Gonzalez announced his retirement tour.
Tony Gonzalez coming back for one final run is not unlike Ray Lewis announcing it was his last season at the beginning of the playoffs in 2012. Unlike Lewis, Gonzalez has always been thought of as an excellent man both on and off the field. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com quoted Atlanta owner Arthur Blank:
—Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 12, 2013
When your return is deemed a win for not just the team but the league in general, it says a lot about your play and brings that urgency for a championship to the teammates around you. That same kind of urgency won the Super Bowl for the Ravens.
Tony Gonzalez has given the Falcons a reason to believe they are the next Super Bowl winner. Now it's just time for the Falcons to prove they truly are a "Team of Destiny."
We have a great shot to get to the Super Bowl, RISE UP ATLANTA!—Tony Gonzalez (@TonyGonzalez88) March 12, 2013
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats, ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy Spotrac and Rotoworld. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He also runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.