could return for his 17th NFL season. (Paul Abell/AP)
Tony Gonzalez maintained throughout the 2012 season that he was "95 percent" certain he would retire, a statement that ran in stark contrast to his on-field performance. En route to a 93-catch season, Gonzalez appeared to have plenty left in the tank, then backed that perception by scoring a pair of TDs in the playoffs.
And now, it's starting to look as if Gonzalez may not be done just yet.
ESPN's Ed Werder reported Tuesday that Gonzalez is "wavering on retirement."
"I think if the circumstances are right," a source told Werder, "Tony will come back."
That jives with what Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff said last week on Pro Football Talk on the NBC Sports Network: "I want to believe (Gonzalez) is a lot closer to 50-50, to be honest with you, and we've had discussions."
The Falcons, who finished 13-3 but lost to San Francisco in the NFC title game, would welcome Gonzalez back with open arms. Gonzalez, who will turn 37 on Feb. 27, could become an unrestricted free agent, but he no doubt would re-sign with Atlanta (or be handed the franchise tag).
A retirement from Gonzalez would serve as a substantial blow to the Falcons' high-powered offense -- Michael Palmer, a restricted free agent, was the second-most productive TE on Atlanta's roster in 2012, and he caught 86 fewer balls than Gonzalez.
Despite Gonzalez's repeated assertion that he was leaning heavily toward retirement, the general consensus was that the Falcons' playoff fate might be the final determinant. After Gonzalez picked up his first ever postseason win over the Seahawks in the divisional round, Palmer told USA Today that Gonzalez was "moving up to 97-percent sure" regarding his retirement.
Had the Falcons gone on to win the Super Bowl, there is little doubt that the future Hall of Famer would have called it a career.
But with Atlanta falling short of its championship goals yet again (and Gonzalez getting a small taste of playoff glory), the retirement needle seems to have slid closer to neutral.
There is not any substantial rush for Gonzalez to decide -- he could delay this decision for several weeks with few drawbacks. The Falcons would prefer a decision earlier, since they would have to enact a Plan B if he retired, and also because the team may prefer to use the franchise tag elsewhere.
Aside from that, however, the Falcons ought to be willing to let Gonzalez go at his own pace. He remained an irreplaceable player for them throughout 2012, so even that 50-50 chance of keeping Gonzalez around has to have Atlanta excited.