After seeing, and now hearing, former (I use that term loosely) Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez make a complete mockery of the Falcons' organization, it's now time to—pardon the pun—Rise Up, Atlanta.
When this column suggested the handling of Gonzalez's pseudo-retirement situation (the past couple of seasons) may have been the primary culprit of last season's 4-12 debacle, the notion was met with a bit of vitriol.
The vitriol wasn't spewed by anyone using their brain to decipher the situation; of course, it was more about people navigating with their collective hearts. After all, why shouldn't a veteran employee be allowed special amenities and perks to provide their services...again?
Now with the forthcoming ESPN The Magazine article, by Seth Wickersham, where Gonzalez says things like: "Maybe, if the team is hot in November, 9-2 or something, I could come back for the last two months," and, "Matt's an excellent quarterback (in reference to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan). But he's not elite. He's this close." Many of those same fans have changed their tune quicker than diapers.
All these comments do is further provide proof the Falcons' brass (namely general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith) signed its own death certificate—in a football sense—in its handling of Gonzalez.
Putting One Man Above The Team
Gonzalez originally started his "Brett Favre-esque" way of handling business in the 2012-13 season, when he announced he was anywhere from 95 to 97 percent sure he would retire after the season (as told to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
This prompted all the major news platforms to run with the story ad nauseam—which is a distraction to the rest of the team in the first place. Now this would be more understandable if Gonzalez mentioned this after the season—due to the fact it was not a definitive statement.
But in what should have been the first sign of his narcissistic ways, Gonzalez let the cat out the bag before the season even began. Now make no mistake about it, there's nobody in the NFL that deserves praise and adulation more than Gonzalez—as he's one of the all-time greats.
In fact, his on-field prowess may only be superseded by his character. Generally, Gonzalez is an all-around good guy. But his football character in his final couple of seasons has left a lot to be desired.
And when Gonzalez decided to act on the three to five percent part of his retirement ratio, the Falcons' problems were only just beginning.
It was the lure of finishing 13-3, and finally winning a playoff game, that forced Dimitroff and Smith to sell their respective souls to the "football devils." Gonzalez was talked out of retirement under the concession he be allowed to skip the majority of the offseason program to spend time with his family.
Now as noble as that is, allowing one player to be placed on a pedestal, regardless of status, is a complete football sin (a lot of religious talk, huh?). What the Falcons' brass failed to realize, is one man doesn't win a championship. A group of individuals who've sacrificed themselves for a common goal does.
While most of the team probably won't admit it, there had to be individuals that weren't on board with Gonzalez receiving special treatment—regardless of his status. Imagine if your place of business provided those types of concessions to an employee whose heart wasn't fully into it?
Now take into account that employee was provided seven million reasons to implement a business-like approach to the season. Furthermore, when the Falcons got off to a shaky start, it was Gonzalez who appeared to be trying to round into football shape.
The situation as a whole is enough to derail any powerful establishment.
A Lesson Learned
When the Falcons do go 9-2 next season, and Gonzalez offers his services, they should play mind games with him. His call should be passed around to approximately 12 people like one of those old Jerky Boys skits.
Then, they should invite him over to the facility to talk, only to cut off all the lights and pretend nobody's home. They could also mail him a key card, but never activate it and laugh while he aimlessly swipes to get in.
No matter what they do, Gonzalez should never be welcomed to play for the Falcons again.
While the Falcons should be preparing to attack this offseason like nobody's business, they must answer questions about why their "estranged uncle" of a tight end is telling the media their QB is not elite (but close to it).
In Gonzalez's defense, those quotes were actually said during the season—which makes them even more damning. It's not that he said anything that isn't true. In fact, it's widely known Ryan is on the cusp of greatness.
It just shouldn't be said.
Especially when Gonzalez knew what the tenor of the Falcons' offseason would be. Providing those types of quotes is just another selfish act from someone who admittedly wanted to be elsewhere once the season got out of hand.
And just like an entitled teenager, Gonzalez believes he can just show back up after the team has put in hard work and restored its respectability.
Knowing what we now know about Dimitroff and Smith, who can blame him?
Hey Tony, your key card is on the way...
After covering the rival New Orleans Saints for the 2013-14 season, Atlanta native Murf Baldwin returns home to cover his hometown team in 2014. Follow Murf on Twitter and welcome him home.
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