No playoffs, Atlanta? We can take Gonzalez off your hands

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.comOctober 11, 2013 

Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is 37, but he’s still a reliable target. He has caught 33 passes for 339 yards and 3 TDs this season.

DAVID GOLDMAN/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Barring a calamity, the Seattle Seahawks are on their way to the playoffs, and figure to make waves when they get there. Those lofty expectations put on them before the season – homefield advantage for two unscheduled games in January, a Super Bowl berth in February – remain realistic.

In other words, the Seahawks are not obvious candidates to participate in a blockbuster trade.

But what if there’s a chance to acquire an all-time great player capable of turning a powerhouse team into something approaching unbeatable? Are Pete Carroll and John Schneider content with the status quo, or do they stand up on the tips of their toes and reach for the, uh, star?

Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez, a future first-ballot Hall of Famer whose final (we think) NFL season has been as productive as any of the 16 that preceded it, is not on the market. Not officially, anyway. Falcons coach Mike Smith on Wednesday said talk of dangling Gonzalez as trade bait was “preposterous.”

Preposterous? Here’s what’s preposterous: any notion of the Falcons regrouping as contenders after their surprisingly sluggish start. They are 1-4. Of the last 118 teams to begin 1-4, six have qualified for the playoffs.

Atlanta still has to face the Seahawks and Saints at home and the Packers and 49ers on the road, and it has to face them without Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones, sidelined for the season with a broken foot.

Trading the popular Gonzalez would be seen as a white-flag move sure to peeve the Falcons’ already frustrated season-ticket

base. Frustration is not a synonym for stupidity. Nine months after the Georgia Dome was home for the NFC Championship Game, Atlanta fans know the only way to salvage 2013 is to begin work on 2014.

Trading Gonzalez, who put off retirement plans last season to return for a long goodbye presumably capped by his first world championship, would give the Falcons a head start on next season. At issue is the exchange rate.

What’s a 37-year-old legend worth after he has made it clear (we think) his retirement is imminent? In the case of Jerry Rice, who had just turned 42 when the Seahawks acquired him from the Raiders midway through the 2004 season, the legend was worth a conditional seventh-round draft choice.

This just in: Tony Gonzalez is not Jerry Rice.

Rice had nothing much to contribute and absolutely nothing left to prove when the Seahawks allowed him to wear the retired No. 80 jersey associated with Steve Largent. Rice wasn’t the bust Terrell Owens turned out to be during an awkward 2012 preseason audition in Seattle, but the only similarity between the 49ers’ version of vintage Rice and the Seahawks’ version of refried Rice was that No. 80.

Gonzalez, who has caught 33 passes for 339 yards and three touchdowns this season, still is a reliable receiver demanding a defense’s attention on every snap. The versatile athlete, who once scrapped for rebounds on the University of California basketball team, hasn’t lost the soft-handed ability to snare a ball up for grabs.

Which brings us to the Seahawks and an offense whose quarterback, Russell Wilson, is consistently forced to scramble behind a patchwork offensive line more adept at clearing room on off-tackle bursts than protecting on pass plays. When Wilson is running for his life, nothing is more inviting than a 6-foot-5 target with soft hands.

It’s a role fit for Seahawks veteran Zach Miller, who finally emerged as a go-to target during last season’s playoff run. Miller’s only problem is durability, the one-thing-or-another consequences of playing a hard-knocks position in a brutal sport. A hamstring injury kept him out of action at Indianapolis, and he’s a game-day decision this week.

Aside from Miller’s uncertain availability for any given Sunday, there is this to consider: On the healthiest day of his life, Miller will never be confused with Tony Gonzalez.

Gonzalez in a nutshell: The Seahawks were a few seconds away from escaping Atlanta last season with a playoff comeback victory for the ages. The Seahawks didn’t go soft in a prevent defense. They pressured quarterback Matt Ryan with five pass rushers.

Ryan had little time, and yet he found Gonzalez down the middle for the 19-yard completion that set up the winning field goal, from 49 yards.

Some disconsolate Seahawks’ fans wept at the conclusion. So did Gonzalez, who had never experienced a playoff victory.

He came back for a 17th season with the idea of competing in a Super Bowl. That won’t happen. Gonzalez isn’t pushing for a trade, the Falcons aren’t discussing a trade, but it’s hard to believe the Oct. 29 trade deadline will expire without several teams in serious pursuit of him.

Yes, he’s a rental, a 37-year-old on the cusp (we think) of retirement. But if the Seahawks are aggressive, they can their give their scrambling quarterback an option who embodies the essence of a target in a pinch.

Can Gonzalez be obtained for a seventh-round draft choice? No way. A fourth-round draft choice? We’re getting warm, but not warm enough.

A first-round draft choice?

It’s an offer the Falcons won’t refuse, and an offer Seahawks fans might find outrageous.

Until it’s third-and-7, at midfield, and Wilson is scrambling to complete the pass that sets up the Seahawks for a winning kick in the Super Bowl.

Carroll and Schneider don’t need my advice, but what the heck, I’ll offer some anyway: Trade a first-round draft choice for Tony Gonzalez.

Go for it, and go for it all.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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