As Tony Gonzalez sulked beside his locker following Atlanta’s heartbreaking loss in the 2013 NFC Championship Game, we thought that was just about the worst way the future Hall of Famer’s career could have ended.
But we were wrong. The worst way it could end would be in a state of apathy, not agony. And if the Falcons hold on to Gonzalez through the end of this season, that’s exactly what will happen, particularly now that Julio Jones has suffered a potentially season-ending injury.
In March, Tony made the difficult decision to return to the Falcons and the NFL for one more year with the hope that he could finally win a Super Bowl. "It's now or never," he said. "This is it."
But now that it’s abundantly clear Atlanta will not be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy any time soon, Thomas Dimitroff and the entire organization owe it to Gonzalez to trade him so he can have the opportunity to reach his ultimate goal.
Watching Gonzalez depart is going to be painful no matter what, but he’s going to leave soon regardless of whether or not he finishes the year with Atlanta -- that's a fact. It’s worth it to accelerate that goodbye if it 1) puts Tony in a better spot, and 2) improves the Falcons’ in the long-term.
Dealing Gonzalez to a contender is a win-win situation. One of the classiest, most well-respected men in the history of the game can get a legitimate crack at a championship, and the Falcons can gain valuable assets that will help them revive from the mess they find themselves in at the moment.
It’s hard to speculate what kind of a return Atlanta could get for Gonzalez, but one has to imagine there are GMs out there willing to part with some decent draft picks to acquire No. 88. And given the number of holes the Falcons currently have on their roster, gathering as many selections as possible is in the team’s best interests.
The Falcons probably won’t be entering "rebuild-mode" this spring, but they’re going to need to re-tool an abysmal defense and an unacceptably weak offensive line. And let’s not forget: Roddy White and Steven Jackson are getting up there in age. This offense isn’t going to have elite potential a whole lot longer in its current state.
The draft is Dimitroff's wheelhouse, and making strong picks will be more important in 2014 than any other year the current regime has been around. Sending Gonzalez elsewhere will, ultimately, give Dimitroff more opportunities to patch the holes that currently plague Atlanta.
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It’s been an absolute treat to watch the greatest tight end of all time dominate opposing defenses in an Atlanta jersey, and the Falcons should have no regrets about the investments they made in him. But down the road, none of us will care about a few highlight-reel catches he made during meaningless games in a lost season.
That’s just the harsh reality we have to face.
Moving on can be hard, but often times it is the right thing to do. I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this, and that’s OK. But if you take emotion out of the equation, you may realize dealing Gonzalez is more logical than holding onto him. A lot has to be done to get the Falcons back to contention, and this move would be a tremendous -- albeit an excruciating -- start.
Dimitroff: Please, give Tony the chance he deserves to win a Super Bowl. And more importantly, put this team in the best position possible to succeed after this nightmare year comes to a close.