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Thursday July 30th, 2015 4:18AM

Gonzalez leaning strongly toward retirement

By The Associated Press
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FLOWERY BRANCH -- Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is close to retiring from the NFL.

How close is up in the air.

Gonzalez said Friday that he's 95 percent sure the upcoming season will be his last, but he wasn't ready to completely rule out a return in 2013.

"I've had a great run," he said. "I don't want to be one of those players toward the end of their careers - and nothing against guys that have done it like that in the past - but I want to make sure that I'm at the top of my game when I do go out."

After the Atlanta Falcons finished their second day of training camp Friday, Gonzalez said offseason discussions with family members and friends helped him understand that the end is near.

He's accomplished quite a bit in 15 seasons and last year surpassed Terrell Owens, Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison to become No. 2 on the league's career receptions list with 1,149 catches.

Considering that he earned a 12th trip to the Pro Bowl last season, Gonzalez believes he could play at a high level for perhaps another three years, but at 36, he doesn't want to hang around too long.

"Sometimes you have to call it quits, and I'm just one of those type of guys that I can't handle being average at this sport because I've been at the top for a while," Gonzalez said. "I hope that's not coming off as cocky, but it's just the way I operate. I don't want to come out there and be somewhat of a role player."

The Falcons, who acquired Gonzalez in a March 2009 trade that sent a second-round draft pick to Kansas City, signed him to a one-year, $6.9 million contract extension before a Week 17 win over Tampa Bay last season.

Though Atlanta played poorly the following week in a wild-card playoff loss at the New York Giants, Gonzalez still finished the regular season with his best numbers in three years with the Falcons, catching 80 passes for 875 yards and seven touchdowns.

Gonzalez insisted that he doesn't want to publicly discuss retirement again until the end of the season.

"I don't want to be a distraction to myself, first and foremost," he said. "I don't want to play games in my head. I'm sticking to it, and we'll know at the end of the season. We have a long time before that day even comes."

Gonzalez is the first NFL tight end - and 13th player in history - with more than 13,000 yards receiving. He holds nearly every NFL record, including 95 touchdown catches, for his position.

One statistic that amazes Falcons coach Mike Smith is Gonzalez's ball security. He hasn't fumbled since Week 16 of 2006. The last time he lost a fumble was in Week 5 of 1999 - a span of 202 straight games and 1,038 receptions.

"It's phenomenal," Smith said. "It says a lot to the way he works in practice. When you watch him, he's playing it like it's a game. He's catching the ball. He's putting it away. He's finishing his catches and running through the end zone. It just speaks volumes."

A storybook ending for Gonzalez would be to win a playoff game for the first time in his career and help the Falcons earn their first Super Bowl title. But for now, he plans to soak in the atmosphere of each day.

"I'm about 95 percent sure (to retire), but I'm enjoying it," he said. "It's kind of a good thing. Because I know this is probably going to be my last camp, I get to enjoy it a little bit more and enjoy the guys a little bit more and really concentrate on just having fun this season. And that means winning games. We've got a great football team."
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