It didn’t take long for tight end Tony Gonzalez to realize one of his newest teammates had what it takes to accomplish great things in the NFL.
After a mesmerizing 12-year run in Kansas City, the then-33-year-old Gonzalez was traded to the Atlanta Falcons before the 2009 season for a second-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. The move was among the most notable for general manager Thomas Dimitroff and secured a reliable and dominant security blanket for the team’s young quarterback, Matt Ryan.
Gonzalez was back in Atlanta for Thanksgiving night to receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring, and he shared a few thoughts on his time with the Falcons.
Although Atlanta was coming off a wild-card round loss to the eventual NFC champion Arizona Cardinals, acquiring Gonzalez not only made the Falcons the team to beat in the NFC South it helped Ryan and the offense take the next step, and it didn’t take long for the All-Pro tight end to realize just how talented his new quarterback was.
“The first time I stepped on that practice field out in Flowery Branch, and I got to see Matt Ryan up close – it was only his second year, he was coming off his rookie year – I was like, boom, this guy is going to be a special player in this league,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when.”
Ryan and Gonzalez played together for five seasons from 2009-13. During that time, the Falcons reached the playoffs three times, including the NFC Championship Game in 2012. Gonzalez was named to the Pro Bowl in four of his five seasons in Atlanta, and he was named an All-Pro after the 2012 season. Ryan, meanwhile, earned his first two Pro Bowl nods in 2010 and 2012.
Not a single moment of Gonzalez’s five seasons with Atlanta was wasted. He ended his run with the Falcons as the franchise leader for receptions by a tight end with 409 and in receiving touchdowns by a tight end with 35. Gonzalez also gained 4,212 receiving yards, which are third most by a tight end in Falcons history.
Gonzalez’s impact was not only felt on the field, but he developed a special relationship with Atlanta’s franchise quarterback.
"He was automatic and one of my best friends that I ever played with and meant so much to me as a person and as a friend,” Ryan said. “He taught me so much about what it means to be a professional. But as far as playing with him, he was just incredibly reliable. Third down, you mentioned, if it was 3rd and 10 or less, we were going his direction. He was making a play.”
For his part, Ryan is well on his way towards joining Gonzalez in the Hall of Fame someday. The former NFL MVP recently passed Warren Moon to move into the top 10 on the league’s all-time passing list, and Ryan needs just 34 more passing yards to become the 10th player in history to reach 50,000 career passing yards.
“The way he works, the way he prepares and the amount of talent that he has, this is why he’s putting up Hall of Fame numbers,” Gonzalez said. “He’s going to be one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history by the time it’s all said and done.”
Atlanta Falcons legend tight end and 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Tony Gonzalez will return to Atlanta to be honored during Thursday Night Football as the Falcons take on the Saints on Thanksgiving. Here are images from Gonzalez's enshrinement weekend in Canton.