Tony Gonzalez retired from the NFL this year after 17 incredible seasons. He’s widely considered the best pass-catching tight end in league history, so he knows a thing or two about good quarterbacks.
“Matt’s an excellent quarterback,” Gonzalez told ESPN The Magazine. “But he’s not elite. He’s this close.”
The term “elite” gets tossed around a lot, especially when the conversation turns to quarterbacks, where the standards are set much higher than at other positions around the league. There are at least 10 quarterbacks often thrown in that discussion, but only the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have consistently remained in that group.
After a terrific 2012 season, which saw Ryan throw a career-high 32 touchdowns and lead the Falcons to within yards of a Super Bowl berth, the 28-year-old quarterback was closing in on that select list. A topsy-turvy 2013 saw his stock fall back to earth, though, as he threw a career-worst 17 interceptions and the Falcons stumbled to a dismal 4-12 record. Losing Pro-Bowl receiver Julio Jones to a torn ACL in Week 4 paired with perennial Pro Bowler Roddy White’s struggles to stay on the field left Ryan without many options to work with on the outside, but unlike Brady, Brees and Rodgers, Ryan was unable to overcome the injuries and keep his team in contention.
With Jones, White and some key cogs on the offensive and defensive line set to return next season — not to mention the No. 6 pick in the NFL draft — the Falcons should be primed to contend for the NFC South crown and the Super Bowl once again in 2014. However, they’ll only go as far as Ryan can take them, and after a shaky 2013, many in the Falcons’ organization likely feel similar to Gonzalez.