FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who’s set to enter his 16th season, said he’s 95 percent sure that this will be his last season after practice Thursday.
“I would say that I’m 95 percent sure, just in case” Gonzalez said. “I talked to my family this offseason. I’ve had a great run. I feel pretty good about where I’m at as a player. I just want to make sure that I end at the top.
“I don’t want to be one of those players towards the end — nothing against those guys who’ve done it like that in the past — but I want to make sure that I’m at the top of my game when I do go out.”
Gonzalez has earned the right to take a Chipper Jones-styled “Rocking Chair Tour” around the National Football League, but who’s going to blame him for leaving the door slightly ajar.
He said he could play another three years.
But he’s rather just pass. The issue of his retirement has been a year-to-year thing for the last couple of seasons.
Gonzalez turned 36 in Feb. after signing a one-year $6.9 million contract.
Whenever he decides to retire, Gonzalez will likely have to wait the minimum required time period – five years – for his selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Of the eight modern-era tight ends that already have yellow jackets, only one played longer than Gonzalez. Jackie Smith played until he was 38 and like Gonzalez, stayed around in quest of a Super Bowl ring.
After playing 15 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and making just two trips to the playoffs, Smith dropped a touchdown pass from Roger Staubach in the end zone as the Cowboys loss to the Steelers by four points in Super Bowl XIII.
The other Hall of Fame tight ends — Ozzie Newsome retired at age 34. Shannon Sharpe (35), Dave Casper (33), Mike Ditka (33), John Mackey (31), Charlie Sanders (31), Kellen Winslow (30) – where long retired before reaching 36.
Gonzalez has shown no signs of slowing down.
Last season he caught 80 passes for 875 yards (10.9 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns.
His 1,149 receptions are the second most in NFL history as he trails only the great Jerry Rice (1,549). His 13,338 yards rank 11th all-time.
The younger Falcons seek out Gonzalez and ask him the keys to his longevity.
“You learn from guys like Tony Gonzalez, John Abraham, and Todd McClure, guys that have been around and successful for a long time,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “You have to take care of yourself. You have to know when to push yourself. There are times when you need to go out there and push yourself and there are times when you need to take care of your body.”
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog