The Atlanta Falcons will pass in 2011. The focus has rightly been on Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas who have the potential to form a sort of elite wide receiver Voltron. One with only three pieces, but still.
While the spotlight shines brightly on that tremendous trio, Tony Gonzalez toils in silence. Gonzo is a Hall of Famer, so you would think it would be difficult to look past him. But it has happened throughout this off-season, because there are a lot of young, exciting guys on the Falcons.
The argument against counting on him for much more than a minimal offensive contribution is obvious: Gonzo is getting older and seemingly a half-step slower by the season. When I put the question of his value out to Twitter yesterday, I got a response from Defy_Reality that I think sums up that perspective.
There's little doubt that Reggie Kelly and Michael Palmer are going to get snaps. The Falcons will likely get Palmer on the field more often in 2011 to see if he's a long-term piece, as a guy who can catch passes and block perfectly well. Even practice squad candidate Marquez Branson could get a few snaps this season, because his upside is tremendous. Assuming, since I got ahead of myself, that he does stick with the Falcons.
Yet Gonzo isn't going away. The team now has multiple deep threats, so Gonzo fulfills a different role. He's the guy who can run short routes and muscle his way to extra yardage. He's the guy who can exploit matchups against coverage-averse tight ends and safeties. He's by far the best tight end the Falcons have, and as such he'll be on the field all the time.
After all, though his yards per reception average fell to an anemic 9.4, Gonzo still reeled in 70 passes and six touchdowns in 2010. Even if those numbers take a hit, he remains a great short threat and a suitably gigantic red zone target.
That's enough to ensure that Gonzalez will still be an integral part of the offense in 2011, in my mind. Do you agree?