Tony Gonzalez isn’t playing like he’s nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career.
Now, he’ll be in a Falcons uniform for at least one more season.
The Falcons signed the 15-year veteran to a one-year, $7 million contract extension Sunday, hours before the regular-season finale against the Buccaneers. The tight end, named to his 12th Pro Bowl last week, was due to be a free agent. Gonzalez made $5.75 million this season, the final of a five-year deal he signed with the Chiefs before being traded to the Falcons in 2009.
Gonzalez is second on the NFL’s all-time receptions list with 1,148. He trails only Jerry Rice, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010 after a 1,549-reception career. He is 11th in league history with 13,330 receiving yards, one of only 13 players to eclipse the 13,000-yard mark.
Gonzalez holds nearly every record for tight ends, including most career receiving yards, most career receptions, most receptions in a single season, most touchdown catches, most 100-yard games and most 1,000-yard seasons.
He entered Sunday’s game third in the league in receptions (79) and fourth in receiving yards (867) among tight ends. He also has seven touchdowns. Gonzalez has caught at least 60 passes in 13 straight seasons.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said the team has been working to re-sign Gonzalez for much of the season.
“With Tony, it was something we were working diligently on to try to secure a deal with him,” Dimitroff told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We wanted him back here. We think he is an integral part of our offense as well as his leadership role. It was very important to us to get this deal done.”
Dimitroff said both the team and Gonzalez were looking for a one-year deal and they will consider the future on a “year-by-year” basis.
The early signing gives the Falcons one less roster move to make in the upcoming offseason. The team now has 19 players due to become free agents including key veterans defensive end John Abraham and center Todd McClure.
“This wasn’t about which free agent was the most important to secure,” Dimitroff said. “It’s a good start. It makes things a lot easier to see where we are going moving forward in trying to get the rest of our deals done. … It helps us gauge where we are in the rest of our financial situation.”
Other players playing the last year of their contracts are linebacker Curtis Lofton, cornerback Brent Grimes, defensive back Thomas DeCoud, wide receiver Harry Douglas, defensive end Kroy Biermann, quarterback Chris Redman, return man Eric Weems, running back Jason Snelling, linebacker Mike Peterson, center Brett Romberg, offensive lineman Kirk Chambers, tight end Michael Palmer, long snapper Joe Zelenka, tight end Reggie Kelly, defensive tackle Vance Walker, defensive back Kelvin Hayden and defensive back James Sanders.
The Falcons will get some salary cap relief as they are unlikely to re-sign all the pending free agents. The league cap is expected to rise slightly. This season, the Falcons used 98.6 percent of the $123.3 million salary cap, the third highest percentage in the NFL. They had $1.6 million in cap room. Only the Giants ($1.5 million) and Steelers ($1.01 million) had less room.
Gonzalez, who will turn 36 in February, was acquired from the Chiefs, where he spent the first 12 seasons. He was the 13th overall pick out of California in 1997. In three seasons with the Falcons, Gonzalez has 19 touchdowns, the fourth most by a tight end during that span. His 232 receptions are second by a tight end, trailing only the Cowboys’ Jason Witten (260).
–Chris Vivlamore, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog