- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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For days to come, folks are sure to continue to dissect Tony Gonzalez's words in an ESPN The Magazine piece by senior writer Seth Wickersham, set to hit newsstands Friday.
Gonzalez's comment about Atlanta Falcons teammate Matt Ryan not quite being an elite quarterback grabbed headlines, as some interpreted it as a direct shot at Ryan. But the two are close friends, so one can bet the retiring Gonzalez wasn't trying to insult the guy who threw him the ball for the past five seasons.
"Matt's an excellent quarterback. But he's not elite. He's this close," Gonzalez said as he placed his thumb near his index finger while talking to Wickersham. "He'll get there, but he has some learning to do."
Maybe Gonzalez's words wouldn't have created such a stir had he phrased it in a different manner. A better way to put it might have been to say that Ryan hasn't quite reached the status of players such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, in part because he has yet to win a Super Bowl.
During the regular season, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan essentially said the same thing about Ryan, and it was viewed as a compliment.
"I don't know if he's quite there yet with Brady and Peyton Manning, but he's certainly close," the Jets coach said of Ryan back in October.
So will Ryan be offended by Gonzalez's words? It's highly unlikely, considering how well-respected Ryan is around the Falcons' locker room for keeping calm no matter the situation. This is the same guy who refused to complain publicly about his offensive line despite being the most battered quarterback in the league throughout the 2013 season. One source indicated a few weeks ago that Ryan was a lot more banged up at season's end than he let on, although Ryan said publicly his body felt fine despite the beating. Ryan was sacked 44 times.
Maybe Ryan and Gonzalez will have a discussion today, if they haven't already. But Gonzalez obviously feels Ryan is on the cusp of greatness, as a $100 million quarterback should be.
Now it's up to the Falcons to help Ryan's cause with an improved offensive line to keep him upright and a few more weapons in the passing game, such as a replacement for Gonzalez at tight end and maybe another change-of-pace running back. The return of game-breaking receiver Julio Jones from foot surgery should be a tremendous help to Ryan as the Falcons try to return to Super Bowl contention following a dismal 4-12 season.