Why the Atlanta Falcons Made the Right Call by Keeping Tony Gonzalez

Al Bruce@@AlBruce7Contributor INovember 1, 2013

Oct 27, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) makes a catch during the first half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Proponents of a Tony Gonzalez trade took a very reasonable position.

Sitting three games below .500, the Atlanta Falcons' prospects for a turnaround are limited, largely because of injuries that have ravaged a roster that already had depth issues and a daunting schedule, featuring games against the Panthers (4-3), Seahawks (7-1), Saints (6-1), Packers (5-2) and 49ers (6-2) down the stretch. 

In addition, Atlanta's inconsistent play along the offensive line and its leaky defense don't do much to inspire hope, since the Falcons currently rank last in the league in rushing and near the bottom of the league in third-down conversions allowed and turnover margin.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs—the team that drafted Gonzalez in 1997—are 8-0 with the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos right on their tails at 7-1. While the Chiefs boast one of the league's best defenses, they will likely have to win a shootout at some point to get where they want to be.

Another pair of sure hands like Gonzalez's would certainly give that offense one of the additional weapons it needs. 

Hollywood couldn't have written a better script.

Kansas City could bring back a player who was once the face of its franchise, while the Falcons could secure an extra draft pick to go toward infusing some more talent along their offensive or defensive line.

Nevertheless, the trade deadline came and went on Tuesday, and 37-year old Tony Gonzalez, who put off retirement to chase the Super Bowl victory that has eluded him for over 15 years, remained a Falcon.

Much to the chagrin of those who pushed for a Gonzalez trade to Kansas City (or some other "contender"), the Falcons got this one right.

Sure, Atlanta lobbied for Gonzalez to return in the offseason after he stated he was 95 percent sure that 2012 would be his last season, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Most other teams would have done the same after coming as close as the Falcons did last season.

However, Atlanta's lobbying shouldn't be confused with coercion. The Falcons did not and could not force Gonzalez to come back this season. That decision was his.

The contract Gonzalez signed upon his return guarantees him $7 million for his 17th year in the league.  He also was allowed to stay in California with his family for a good chunk of training camp.

Do the Falcons really "owe" Gonzalez any more accommodation?

Perhaps that's part of the reason why Gonzalez didn't ask for a trade himself.

The other part of the reason for Gonzalez's refusal to demand a trade could have been based on what Gonzalez knew when he decided to come back to Atlanta.

You see, Gonzalez has been in the league long enough to appreciate its volatility from year to year. His Chiefs team finished 13-3, had the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs in 2003, and lost in the Divisional Round to the Colts before dropping to 7-9 the next season.

While not many people expected Atlanta's season to play out the way it has, Gonzalez appreciated the risk that playing for another season still wouldn't guarantee him a return trip to the playoffs even if this team was healthy.

So don't feel bad for Gonzalez. He doesn't want your pity. He made an adult decision before the season and now has made the adult decision to honor the contract he signed (as a free agent, mind you) to make good money playing for an Atlanta team that he enjoys playing for.

Yes, Atlanta will probably miss the postseason this year, and Gonzalez will probably retire without a championship ring. He won't be the first Hall of Fame-caliber player to do it, and he won't be the last.

Still, what's the benefit of keeping Gonzalez for the Falcons? 

Well, don't forget that the NFL is a business. Atlanta has four more home games on its schedule it needs to sell out. What kind of message would trading Tony Gonzalez for a fifth-round draft pick have sent to diehard Falcons fans who have filled the Georgia Dome this season despite the team's poor start? 

Would other veteran Falcons players who don't have rings like Steven Jackson, Jonathan Babineaux or Roddy White (when healthy) still be expected to lay it all on the line for a team that has essentially waived the white flag by trading Gonzalez for a Day 3 draft pick?

The team knew it had to keep Gonzalez because that move represented keeping hope for this season alive—even if just for marketing purposes and the other players in the locker room.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff has missed some moves, and those misses have contributed to Atlanta's 2-5 start. However, unless he turned down a third-round pick or higher at the deadline, Dimitroff made the right call to keep Tony Gonzalez in a Falcons uniform for the rest of this season.


All stats are via ESPN.com, contract data is via Spotrac.com, and historical references are via Pro Football Reference.