When the Atlanta Falcons fell 10 yards short of a Super Bowl berth last January, it appeared as though future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez had played the final game of his 16-year career.
Now, the Falcons are becoming increasingly hopeful that Gonzo might not be gone after all.
According to multiple team sources, the Falcons are cautiously optimistic that Gonzalez, the second-leading receiver in NFL history, will return for another potential title run in 2013. Sources close to Gonzalez, an unrestricted free agent, said he is contemplating a return at the right price, provided he can miss some or all of training camp this summer.
"He will come back if they pay him $7 million and he doesn't have to do training camp," said one Falcons player familiar with Gonzalez's thinking.
Another team source added, "If we offer him the money, he'll most likely be back for one more. He'll most likely be looking to miss training camp, though."
A high-ranking Falcons official indicated the team would not likely let either of those issues become an impediment to a deal. Gonzalez, who had a $3.9 million base salary in 2012 and earned a $1 million roster bonus, is still productive (he caught 93 passes last season and shined in the postseason) and is known for his phenomenal physical conditioning.
"The money is there," a source close to Gonzalez said. "Working out the days he can miss is the biggest holdup."
Though Gonzalez will technically be free to sign with other teams as of Tuesday, when unrestricted free agency begins, both sides seem willing to proceed deliberately. The Falcons are focused on retaining their own free agents, as evidenced by Saturday's re-signing of safety William Moore to a reported five-year, $32 million deal. The team also re-signed guard Garrett Reynolds for two years on Saturday.
Offensive tackle Sam Baker and cornerback Brent Grimes are Atlanta's other free-agent priorities.
The Falcons are strongly considering drafting Gonzalez's successor in April, with former Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert and former Stanford tight end Zac Ertz among the possible selections in the first round. (Atlanta holds the 30th overall pick.) However, even if the team addresses the position in the draft, the Falcons' brass likely would remain highly motivated to retain Gonzalez for at least another season.
In January, Gonzalez became highly emotional after experiencing the first playoff victory of his storied career. At the time, Gonzalez stood by his assertion that he was "95 percent sure" 2012 would be his final season.
However, it's looking more and more like Gonzalez will suit up for the Falcons in 2013 – though he likely won't do so until the real games begin.
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