There is plenty of discussion to be had about the label itself, but Gonzalez is adamant in his stance about his former quarterback, as he told ESPN The Magazine senior writer Seth Wickersham, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com:
"Matt's an excellent quarterback. But he's not elite. He's this close," says Gonzalez, placing his thumb near his index finger. "He'll get there, but he has some learning to do."
Regardless of the exact definition of the polarizing word, Gonzalez's thoughts hold weight when one peruses the facts.
Since joining the Falcons in 2008 as the No. 3 overall pick out of Boston College, Ryan has annually played with top-tier talent such as Gonzalez, a future Hall of Famer, and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones.
Ryan was somewhat exposed in 2013 with Jones out for year and White little more than a decoy thanks to nagging injuries. Before Jones went down with his season-ending foot injury, four of Atlanta's losses were of the close variety.
The four losses after Jones' departure were not only blowouts, but season-crippling losses that created a downward spiral in which Atlanta won just two games after Week 8 en route to a miserable 4-12 finish.
Ryan finished the year with 4,515 passing yards, a 67.4 completion percentage, 26 touchdowns and a career-high 17 interceptions.
Critics, including Gonzalez, will argue that quarterback wins play into a signal-caller earning the "elite" moniker. Until Ryan's 1-4 record in the playoffs improves, he will remain a player who is viewed as reliant on the talent around him to find success.
Meanwhile, Gonzalez revealed in the same interview that he would consider coming out of retirement "if the team is hot in November, 9-2 or something..."
Ryan will have a chance to prove to Gonzalez and his detractors that he's elite in 2014.