- Jeffri Chadiha, ESPN Staff Writer
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- What started as intriguing watercooler speculation should grow into a much hotter conversation. That is the ultimate takeaway in the Kansas City Chiefs' 24-7 win over the Oakland Raiders. Yes, the Chiefs improved to 6-0. Yes, they found another way to grind out a victory in a resourceful manner. But Sunday's win also revealed something else about this team: The Chiefs need to make a deal to bring tight end Tony Gonzalez back home.
This discussion started last week, as their offense was taking more criticism for its lack of weapons in the passing game and the Atlanta Falcons -- Gonzalez's current team -- continued their improbable implosion. The deal made sense for all the right reasons, too. Gonzalez was named to 10 Pro Bowls during his 12 seasons with the Chiefs, and he's openly said this would be his final year in the NFL. Kansas City traded him to Atlanta in 2009 so he could have a decent shot at a Super Bowl, but it's now obvious that dream won't work out as Gonzalez had hoped.
If that was the conversation a week ago, imagine what it should be today. The Chiefs beat Oakland despite compiling just 105 passing yards. Their best wide receiver, Dwayne Bowe, has only 20 receptions this season for 229 yards, largely because of the extra attention he faces from opposing defenses every week. It's time for the Chiefs to look in the mirror and face facts. They aren't going to fix their biggest offensive problem with the people they currently have in their locker room.
After Sunday's game, Bowe acknowledged that he would love to see the trade happen. "It would definitely be a great thing," said Bowe, who had three receptions for 46 yards against the Raiders. "He would fit right into this system. It's a pass-happy offense that loves to get the ball to the tight end, and he's a phenomenal athlete. If they did [the deal], it would take us to another level."
More importantly, the Chiefs have to take this opportunity to elevate their offense. Along with their struggles to get Bowe going, they've taken massive hits at the tight end position. They placed rookie Travis Kelce on injured reserve last week. An ankle injury has sidelined Anthony Fasano since a Week 2 win over the Dallas Cowboys. As much as Chiefs fans appreciate the contributions of current starter Sean McGrath, he's playing only because everybody ahead of him on the depth chart is hurt. The Chiefs picked him up off waivers on Sept. 1.
Gonzalez, on the other hand, has 1,275 career receptions and is a lock for the Hall of Fame. He's also playing on a 1-4 team that already has lost one Pro Bowl receiver for the season (Julio Jones) and has watched another (Roddy White) hobble through the past few games. Falcons head coach Mike Smith recently said it was "preposterous" to think Atlanta would deal Gonzalez -- and thereby rule its season over -- but don't make the mistake of believing this is a conversation ender.
While Gonzalez's agent, Tom Condon, also denies a trade is happening -- "[Atlanta] told me they aren't doing anything" -- that doesn't mean things can't change in a couple weeks. The Falcons could have a decidedly different attitude the closer we get to the Oct. 29 trade deadline. If they are out of the playoff picture, the possibility of a deal will be much higher. The likelihood of the Falcons being out of playoff contention also could make it easier for the Chiefs to determine what they would give up in return for Gonzalez.
The important thing to remember here is that Gonzalez isn't likely to play beyond this season. At 37 years old, he's already in his 17th season, and the Falcons had to talk him into returning for this year (while granting him fringe benefits, such as permission to skip most of training camp). So the Chiefs would have to find suitable compensation for a player they would be renting for seven regular-season games and at least one playoff game, if they qualify. Again, that shouldn't be hard to figure out when you look at where the Chiefs sit.
Since Gonzalez is making $3.5 million this season, the Falcons would've already paid half his salary if a deal is done around the time of the trade deadline. The Chiefs also could prorate the remaining money owed to Gonzalez and squeeze him into their current salary cap (which already had nearly $5 million in available space). Such a move wouldn't be much different from what Jacksonville recently accomplished in trading offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, a former first-round pick, to Baltimore. The Jaguars knew they weren't going to re-sign Monroe once he became a free agent next year, so they found a team hungry enough to offer something for him.
In the case of Gonzalez, the Chiefs have to know some other team is going to make a serious bid to acquire him. The New England Patriots have had issues at tight end all season, and Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff made his bones in that organization. There's also the frustration factor. As much as Gonzalez has said he doesn't want to be traded, it's hard to think he wants to finish his career on a team that might win five games this year. He left Kansas City for a shot at a championship; he could do the same thing in Atlanta as well.
The real question in this is how Gonzalez wants to be perceived. He's smart enough to know his image will take a hit if he pushes for Atlanta to make a deal, and as Condon acknowledged, "It's hard to see them trading Tony anywhere without getting his approval." On the flip side, this deal probably could get done with a low-round conditional pick from the Chiefs. By December, the Falcons could be so irrelevant that nobody would even recall what went into the transaction.
So while the Chiefs are saying all the right things at moment -- "Tony is still playing at the top of his game, but we can win with the guys we have here," said inside linebacker Derrick Johnson -- they have to be thinking about the possibilities down the road. They have an elite defense, an unblemished record and a realistic opportunity to win 12-plus games. We've already seen other teams acquire players they planned on using immediately this season, including Baltimore (Monroe), Indianapolis (running back Trent Richardson) and Minnesota (quarterback Josh Freeman). The Chiefs could help themselves immensely by taking a similar approach with a player they know well.
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