The Union Recorder

Local Sports

January 22, 2013

Falcons still hurting after coming up shy of title

(Continued)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. —

"That's probably going to be the last time I wear that uniform, or football pads and cleats," Gonzalez said. "I didn't want to take it off, to tell you the truth. But all good things come to an end."

Smith is holding out hope that Gonzalez will reconsider, but doesn't plan to sit down with the tight end until the sting of the NFC championship loss wears off a bit. If he goes through with retirement, the Falcons will have a big hole to fill in their offense.

A couple of other key spots could be open, as well. Left tackle Sam Baker, a former first-round pick who made tremendous strides this season, is a potential unrestricted free agent. Turner has another year left on his deal, but his production tailed off dramatically as the Falcons put less reliance on the running game and gave more carries to backup Jacquizz Rodgers.

Turner is due to make $5.5 million next year, but the Falcons could free up $3 million in cap space if they let him go — which seems likely after he rushed for just 800 yards, averaging a paltry 3.6 per carry. Rodgers showed flashes of promise, but he's just 5-foot-6 and unlikely to take on the primary role in the running game.

The biggest moves of the offseason will likely come on the defensive side. Despite a multidimensional scheme installed by new coordinator Mike Nolan, the Falcons ranked 24th in yards allowed and struggled to shut down Seattle and San Francisco in the playoffs. Atlanta squandered a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter to the Seahawks, before rallying to win, and the Niners pulled off the biggest comeback in NFC championship game history.

Abraham led the team with 10 sacks; no one else had more than four. The Falcons could focus on defensive ends in free agency and the draft, or they could shift to a 3-4 scheme in which the outside linebackers get more of the rushing duties.

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