Falcons focused on locking up Ryan, Gonzalez

February 23, 2013, 12:23 AM

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

INDIANAPOLIS — The Atlanta Falcons have two primary off-season goals.

Yes, they want to lock up franchise quarterback Matt Ryan to a new long-term deal. But the more pressing need may be getting tight end Tony Gonzalez to delay his retirement plans for another season.

"I’ve spoken with Tony, and I hope you guys understand that when I talk to my players, I try to keep those conversations private," coach Mike Smith said Friday at the NFL’s annual scouting combine. "I’ll talk with him again, and the time frame on that is sooner than later. We know that Tony had an outstanding year for us."

Atlanta (13-3) finished with the NFC’s best record and fell just short of reaching its second Super Bowl, a loss that many thought would be the last of Gonzalez’s career.

While he hasn’t officially announced his retirement, Gonzalez has said repeatedly he was 95 per cent certain the 2012 season would be his last in the NFL.

If Gonzalez doesn’t return, Smith made it clear the Falcons would be looking for a replacement that looks a lot like Gonzalez, the career leader for receptions among tight ends. Of course, the best solution might be not be finding a replacement at all.

"I think the skill set that Tony Gonzalez has is basically the standard that most teams are looking for when they are talking about a tight end," Smith said. "He was really the first one, the more athletic tight end that could extend from the formation, line up outside, line up in different places. We would be looking for that type of tight end."

Gonzalez’s future is only part of the equation in Atlanta.

Ryan has led the Falcons to the playoffs four times but has only one post-season win, and his contract is set to expire after next season. Apparently, Atlanta is ready to start talking.

"Obviously, it’s a priority for us when the time is right, and we’re not too anxious about it because we’re confident that it’s going to get done," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "Our feeling is that Matt’s going to be with us for many years to come and he’s going to be our franchise guy that we’re all very proud off, again, on and off the field. Matt’s what we’re looking for in a quarterback."

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MORE CONTRACT TALK: The Falcons are just one of many teams at the combine being peppered with questions about contracts.

The Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals are in the club, too.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett lined up unequivocally behind his starting quarterback Tony Romo, though he acknowledged Dallas probably needs to restructure Romo’s deal to fill out the roster.

"We believe very strongly in Tony Romo as our quarterback, so we want to get that business done to help our football team be as good as it can be," Garrett said. "I do believe we have to address some things with personnel, and freeing up some of that money will allow us to do that."

The Bengals aren’t in salary cap crunch. Heading into free agency, they are expected to have more than $50 million to spend.

But they do have a lot of expiring contracts and many young players who will be due raises in the next couple of years, so they’ll spend the next couple of weeks doing what they can to keep their team together.

"I don’t have any confirmation yet that we have signed anyone," coach Marvin Lewis said. "We’re working hard on it and there are some meetings and positive things that have to continue to come. We have a number of guys who we have to get re-signed and we will work very hard at getting that done."

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BROTHERLY LOVE: Apparently, the Harbaugh brothers are talking again.

A few days after the Super Bowl, winning coach John Harbaugh said he and his brother, Jim, had not spoken since the 49ers lost to the Ravens.

The silent treatment is now over.

"A little bit about the game and some other things," Jim Harbaugh said when asked at the combine if the two had talked since the title game. "We’ve just got a strong relationship, and it always seems to get stronger. We’re very close."

Even so, there are some topics that are out of bounds, such as strategy.

And while it has been an incredible season for the Harbaugh family — John won his first Super Bowl, Jim won his first NFC championship and Indiana coach Tom Crean, their brother-in-law, has the No. 1 team in college basketball — that’s no consolation to the former NFL quarterback whose name appears in the Lucas Oil Stadium Ring of Honor.

"It’s not easier," Jim Harbaugh said of dealing with the loss now.

Harbaugh also said the 49ers may not have injured receiver Mario Manningham back on the field at the start of training camp, adding the caveat that he’s no doctor. Manningham had reconstructive surgery on his left knee in January.

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COUGHLIN THE COMEDIAN: Giants coach Tom Coughlin tackled the expected routine Friday with humour.

Three questions into his scheduled 15-minute news conference, he was asked about having one year left on his contract. One of his players, cornerback Terrell Thomas, had said he thought this would be Coughlin’s last year coaching.

"I wondered how long it would take to get to that. I tried to think of something funny to say, but I don’t know what to say about it. I don’t even know how a young man would come to that statement," he joked. "I approach each year the way I always approach them and the energy is flowing well and I’m excited about it. I’m looking forward to this off-season and getting our football team together again. Maybe at some point I’ll get the message, but it certainly isn’t right now."

For Coughlin, that was only the start of his comedy routine.

When he was asked whether centre David Baas, who was listed with hip and shoulder injuries before the Giants season finale, had any surgery, Coughlin told reporters he had a little surgery.

The reporter then asked: "On what?"

Coughlin’s response: "On his body."

Seriously, though, Coughlin did call the decision to release running back Ahmad Bradshaw "very tough." The injury-plagued Bradshaw helped the Giants win two Super Bowls.

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DON’T PACK YET: Conventional wisdom suggests Green Bay will not bring back Pro Bowl receiver Greg Jennings next season.

But at the combine, coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson made it clear if they can keep Jennings, they’d like to.

"All I am going to say is it is our policy, and we think it’s a good way to manage the NFL if you are able to retain any of your players, and we would very much like to do that, and that includes Greg," Thompson said.

The Packers are trying to prepare for a potential cap crunch in the next couple of seasons when they will have to re-sign linebacker Clay Matthews, defensive tackle B.J. Raji, and the 2011 league MVP, quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay has already released 2009 Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson, and longtime receiver Donald Driver announced his retirement earlier this month.

Most believe keeping Jennings is a luxury the Packers simply cannot afford, but the reality is Green Bay isn’t ruling it out.

"We’ll see what happens with Jennings because he is in more of a business situation," coach Mike McCarthy said. "You don’t replace Woodson and Driver, and I am talking about what type of guys they are and what they bring to the team."

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COMING BACK: John Elway’s return trip to Lucas Oil Stadium already has the Denver boss thinking about one of next fall’s marquee matchups: Peyton Manning’s return to Indianapolis.

The schedule usually is released in April, but Elway, who spent his entire NFL career with the Broncos, has a semblance of what it might be like when Manning comes back to Lucas Oil Stadium next fall.

"It’ll be special. I’m sure it will be special for Peyton," Elway said. "I’m sure when you spend as long as Peyton did in Indianapolis, the relationships that he has, at that point in his career to go somewhere else and play had to be tough."

Indy fans won’t have to wait that long to see Manning.

He’s scheduled to be in town in late April for a fundraiser for the children’s hospital that bears his name.

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