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Throwback Thursday Series: Dimitroff trades for Tony Gonzalez

A trade which netted a valued contributor who was well worth the investment.

Atlanta Falcons v Green Bay Packers Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

We’re in the dead period of football (you can read about how much I hate this period here), and with it, we don’t have much to talk about except for some speculation here and there.

I figured this would be a good time to look back on some moments in Falcons history and maybe relive them while we wait for football to come back.

That idea has given rise to a new series of “Throwback Thursday” articles I’m planning on writing throughout the dead period. Each week, we’ll re-live and discuss a certain moment in this franchise’s 52-year history.

You can find last week’s Throwback Thursday article, about Peerless Price, here.

The 2008 Atlanta Falcons were resurgent. Led by rookie quarterback Matt Ryan and rookie head coach Mike Smith, and through the power of workhorse RB Michael Turner, that team ended up winning 11 games and making it to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Ryan was named Rookie of the Year, Smith was named Coach of the Year and rookie General Manager Thomas Dimitroff was named Executive of the Year. The Falcons, who in 2007 looked to be setting sail into a period of darkness, suddenly had one of the brightest futures of any team in the NFL.

A window of contention jarred itself open for Arthur Blank’s franchise, and in the 2009 offseason, Dimitroff would open that window even further by showcasing the type of aggression he would eventually become known for.

Roddy White was coming off of his best season to date, totaling 1382 receiving yards and seven touchdowns en route to his first career Pro Bowl appearance in 2008, but Atlanta was still looking to bolster Matt Ryan’s arsenal of weapons beyond White. Dimitroff looked toward the 2-14 Kansas City Chiefs and seemingly disgruntled All-Pro Tight End Tony Gonzalez, who had asked for a trade in October of the 2008 season, as a golden opportunity to give Ryan that added weapon.

Tony to Atlanta

Days before the 2009 draft, Dimitroff struck a deal with Kansas City GM Scott Pioli to acquire Gonzalez in exchange for a 2010 second-round pick.

Gonzalez was coming to Atlanta as the most accomplished TE of all time, at that point. He owned the TE records with 916 catches, 10,940 receiving yards, 76 receiving TDs and 26 100-yard receiving games. Gonzalez had been selected to the Pro Bowl 10 straight times going into the 2009 season, the most Pro Bowl appearances by a TE ever.

And 2008 was particularly spectacular for the incomparable Gonzalez, who registered 96 receptions, 1058 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns en route to being a First-Team All-Pro selection for the fifth time in his illustrious career.

Number 88 would go on to play five seasons in Atlanta. With Roddy White and, eventually, Julio Jones attracting plenty of targets from Matt Ryan over the years, Gonzalez’s days of totaling 1,000+ receiving yards would be over, but he would make a profound impact nonetheless.

The University of California, Berkley alum totaled 409 receptions, 4187 receiving yards and 35 receiving touchdowns in his five years with the Falcons, while not missing a single game. He would finish third in franchise history among TEs in receiving yards, behind Jim Mitchell (4358) and Alge Crumpler (4212), in 28 fewer games than Crumpler and 75 fewer games than Mitchell. Gonzalez’s receiving touchdowns total would see him finish tied for first in franchise history among TEs with Crumpler, and his receptions total is good for most among TEs in franchise history.

In the 2008 season, before Gonzalez’s arrival, the TE position, occupied by Justin Peele, Ben Hartstock and Jason Rader, accounted for 19 receptions, 211 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. Number 88 made the tight end position a viable weapon for Matt Ryan in the passing game.

Even going beyond the statistics, the level of professionalism Tony Gonzalez brought to the team was invaluable. Putting a young Matt Ryan and, eventually, a young Julio Jones around a consummate professional such as Gonzalez is the type of move which indirectly leads to a lot of success down the line.

To give up a second-round pick for a 33-year-old non-QB is always a risk and a steep price to pay, but looking back on it, this ended up being an excellent trade for the birds. In Gonzalez’s five years wearing a Falcons uniform, Atlanta would post a 49-31 record and appear in the playoffs three times, going 13-3 twice. In the 2012 divisional round, Gonzalez would secure the catch which set up the team’s first playoff win in the Matt Ryan era.

In those five seasons, Gonzalez would be voted to the Pro Bowl four times and would be named a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2012.

Expect these “Throwback Thursday” articles to be recurring throughout the offseason, to reminisce about the team’s history and to give us some stuff to talk about. Don’t expect them to go in order, however. The next one could look back on a moment that occurred in the 90s or even a few years ago. Between you and me, I’m just making it up as I go along.