- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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One of the most productive offensive players in NFL history continued to be on the defensive Monday.
Retiring Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez once again stood behind his comments to ESPN senior writer Seth Wickersham when he said Matt Ryan was an excellent quarterback, but not quite elite. Gonzalez’s words were part of an extensive ESPN the Magazine piece by Wickersham, who followed Gonzalez throughout the 2013 season.
While appearing on ESPN Radio’s "The Herd’’ with Colin Cowherd Monday morning, Gonzalez was asked if he caught any flak for stating his feelings about Ryan.
"More than you know; more than you know,’’ Gonzalez said to Cowherd. "You know with this whole Twitter thing and everything, everybody can give their opinion about this stuff. But I don’t read the Twitter comments because why do I want to go get insulted? So I didn’t read it. My wife read a couple of them to me.’’
The implication was that Gonzalez took a shot at Ryan for not classifying him among the elite.
"And you know the thing about it is it’s so slighted, too,’’ Gonzalez said, "that the networks out there that put the story out, they say 'Tony Gonzalez slights Matt Ryan.’ And it’s like, 'What a bias thing to say’ because I didn’t slight him at all. First of all, we’re talking about one of my best friends. I have the utmost respect for Matt. Me and his wife, Sarah, and my wife, October, we go out to dinners. We go on vacations together. It’s just ridiculous how they’re saying that I slighted him.
"The question was asked, point blank, 'Is Matt Ryan an elite quarterback?’ And I said, 'No, he’s very close. But at this point, no. And he’s going to be there. There’s no doubt in my mind.’ I’ve always said it ever since the first day I laid eyes on Matt Ryan. I said it’s not a matter of if. It’s just a matter of when for this this kid because he’s got that work ethic, he’s got the arm, he’s got all the tools to go out there and be that type of quarterback. And he’s almost there. And I do believe he’ll get there.’’
Gonzalez explained in more detail what he meant about the elite category.
"If you look at it right now in the NFL -- and here’s what I want people to look at -- the Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks in this league right now, there’s four of them. There’s Tom Brady, there’s Peyton Manning, there’s Aaron Rodgers, and there’s Drew Brees. And those guys are probably first ballot -- I don’t think I’m going out on a limb -- they are first-ballot Hall of Famers, all four of them. … As far as I’m concerned, those are the elite quarterbacks. And everybody else is in line after that.
"And Matt Ryan is right there. He’s right there with (Ben) Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, whatever you want to call it. They’re right there. And there’s no slight against Matt or any of those other guys.’’