A Changing of the Guard: Travis Kelce is surpassing Tony Gonzalez's Chiefs Legacy Right Before Our Eyes

In the midst of maybe the greatest season by a tight end ever, Travis Kelce has built an impressive enough resume to potentially pass Tony Gonzalez as the Chiefs' best tight end in their team's history.
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Former Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez is the greatest tight end ever. His longevity coupled with his production at the position was — and still is — unmatched.

Now, with that being said: Travis Kelce has surpassed Tony Gonzalez as the best Chiefs tight end of all-time.

What Gonzalez did in his 17-year career in the NFL is unparalleled in NFL history. Also, Kelce has now reached greater heights than Gonzalez did in his remarkable career. Both things can be true at the same time.

This proclamation is similar to Green Bay Packers fans saying that Aaron Rodgers is the best Packers quarterback of all-time. (And he is.) Brett Favre is a Hall-of-Fame player and he should be held in great admiration by the Packers fan base for what he did for their franchise. That doesn’t impact the reality that Rodgers has done otherworldly things for a sustained period of time, earning the right to surpass Favre in Packers history.

Chiefs fans can say the same things about the unique greatness of Tony Gonzalez and Travis Kelce. Kelce’s 2020 season has cemented this new reality.

Kelce is in the midst of the best year of his career. He is on pace to shatter the single-season tight end yardage record, pacing for 1,539 yards, leaping past the 1,377-yard record set by George Kittle in 2018. Kelce also currently leads the entire NFL in receiving. If he finishes the year as the single-season receiving-yards leader, he would become the first tight end to ever do so.

Kelce also has nine touchdowns racked up in 2020, already the second-most in any single year of his career.

What Kelce is doing is unprecedented. Even comparing Travis Kelce’s year to Rob Gronkowski’s otherworldly 2011 season, where Gronk had 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns, shows Kelce’s 2020 season is still a standout year.

DYAR, or Defensive Yards Above Replacement, is FootballOutsiders' attempt to recreate WAR from baseball in a football context. The higher the number, the more the player is worth.

Kelce has already had the second-most-valuable tight end season of all time, and he’s on pace to get very close to Gronk’s No. 1 season which seemed out of reach for tight ends since. That is how great Kelce is playing, and it isn’t just this year.

While 2020 has cemented Kelce’s status in Chiefs history, the sheer dominance of Kelce over the past five years is the core of why and how Kelce has taken the crown from Gonzalez.

In 2019, Travis Kelce was the first tight end in history with four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

In 2020, Travis Kelce extended the already-impressive record when he passed the 1,000-yard mark again, making it five in a row.

No other tight end has ever even had five 1,000 yard seasons... period. Kelce has had five, consecutively.

While Tony Gonzalez did play during an era of the NFL that was much less favorable for passing, quarterbacks were still throwing with volume in the early 2000s. In Tony G’s two biggest years with the Chiefs, 2000 and 2004, Elvis Grbac threw for over 4,000 yards passing and 28 touchdowns and Trent Green threw for over 4,500 yards and 27 touchdowns. The early 2000s were not the 1950s, quarterbacks were still slinging the rock.

Even considering the time period Kelce plays in, he towers above his peers. Since 2011, when Gronkowski revolutionized the tight end position, there have been 21 1,000-yard seasons by tight ends. With five 1,000-yard seasons in that span, Travis Kelce has almost a quarter of the 1,000-yard seasons by tight ends in the last decade. As a reminder, two of those five seasons were with Alex Smith.

It would be unfair to not mention the fact that, during Gonzalez’s time with the Chiefs (1997-2008), he did have the three best-receiving seasons for a tight end by yardage in that span. Gonzalez’s dominance is comparable to Kelce’s, who since entering the league in 2013 has three of the top four receiving yardage seasons by a tight end. They both have been the elite of the elite at their positions at the time they played, but Kelce’s 2020 season could end up being the most dominant season of them all, even relatave to their era. 

If Gonzalez had finished his career with the Chiefs, this conversion probably wouldn’t be happening yet. As it stands today, however, Gonzalez only leads Kelce by around 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns on the Chiefs all-time leaderboards. The changing of the guard in Chiefs history is happening before our eyes. If Kelce shatters the single-season receiving record for tight ends and puts that alongside his other ridiculous records, his All-Pro, All-Decade, Pro Bowl honors and at least one Super Bowl ring, it will be hard to argue that Kelce hasn’t surpassed Tony Gonzalez to become the greatest tight end to wear a Chiefs uniform.