Free Agent TE a Quick Cure on Offense?

Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez is scheduled to be a free agent in March if the Chiefs can't work out a deal with him or decline to slap the franchise tag on him. See what Gonzalez had to say about his frustrations with the Chiefs offense in the playoffs and what former teammate and current Viking Tony Richardson had to say about the possibilities of Gonzalez making a switch in teams for 2007.

The Vikings entered the 2006 NFL draft hoping to land former Wisconsin Badgers tight end Owen Daniels at the right spot. Instead, the Houston Texans grabbed Daniels in the fourth round and he produced 34 receptions for 352 yards and five touchdowns.

The Vikings' leading tight end in 2006 was Jermaine Wiggins, whose production dropped to 46 receptions for 386 yards and one touchdown in Brad Childress' West Coast offense.

That left Wiggins uncertain of his future with the Vikings after the season. He is signed for 2007, but both him and Jim Kleinsasser have sizeable contracts and their production didn't seem to mesh well with the team's new scheme.

That could leave the Vikings fishing for a pass-receiving tight end in free agency, and there is none bigger than the Kansas City Chiefs' Tony Gonzalez.

"He's a different guy. I'm just saying he's probably the most gifted athlete I've ever been around. From a tight end-receiver guy, he's special," said Vikings fullback Tony Richardson, who played with Gonzalez for nine years with the Chiefs.

"I did a little bit of (recruiting free agents) in Kansas City during the free agency period. If you get two guys that are kind of side by side as far as the money aspect of it, then maybe there has to be some other things that might sway a guy, so I was involved in that in Kansas City, going to dinner with guys and saying, ‘Hey, this is a good place. We're trying to do the right thing.' I don't know if this organization puts a value on that or not, so we'll kind of have to see what happens in the offseason. If I can help out and we could get that one extra guy that will kind of put us over the hump and win more games, I'm going to do it. That's what it's all about."

Gonzalez finished his 10th season as a Chief with 73 catches for 900 yards in the regular season, leading his team in both categories and tying for the team lead with five touchdowns. That extended his franchise record to more than 700 catches and 7,500 yards.

Yet Gonzalez still doesn't have a championship to show for it.

"It's been 10 years now for me leaving here disappointed," Gonzalez told the Kansas City Star after the Chiefs' 23-8 loss to Indianapolis in the wild card round of the playoffs this weekend. "I'll never get used to it, and I never want to. But after 10 years, you start to say to yourself, 'This is something that's got to change.' That's what they pay us for, to win games, to go to the Super Bowl. If we can't get it done, something's got to change. I'm looking forward to change this offseason."

That was close to the sentiment that Richardson gave Viking Update when asked about the possibility of Gonzalez leaving the Chiefs.

"Tony and I talked about it and I had 11 great years there and he had 10. Ten years on any job is really too long," Richardson said just before the Vikings' season ended. "I heard Denny (Green) when he was talking about that big playoff loss (following the 2000 season) and the following year he was kind of stumbling around. I think after that he was released and when he was done here, he said, ‘Yeah, 10 years on any job is really too long because you either should have grown or moved on to something else.' I was listening to his quote and thought about it and I had 11 great years (in Kansas City), but we didn't win the championship. You want to have 11 great years and help a team win a championship and obviously I didn't do that and I think Tony feels the same way. He's had 10 great years of service, but it hasn't helped them get over the hump to win the Super Bowl. I don't know, but as I said, I know he wants to retire a Chief, but it's just a matter of seeing what happens."

Even if Gonzalez wants to leave Kansas City, the Chiefs could place the franchise tag on him, which would call for an average of the top five salaries of tight ends in 2006 or 120 percent of his previous salary, whichever is greater. Considering Gonzalez was the top-paid tight end in 2005 at $4,831,370, according to NFL Players Association documents, he would probably garner about $7.5 million in 2007 if the Chiefs franchised him (exact franchise numbers for 2007 aren't released until Super Bowl week).

Warpaint Illustrated publisher Nick Athan says Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson will place the franchise tag on Gonzalez if the two sides can't work out a multi-year contract before free agency opens on March 2.

"I think he'd like to finish his career in Kansas City. With a guy like him, when it comes down to dollars, ultimately, can the organization work the money part out?" Richardson said. "I know Tony definitely wants to retire as a Chief, but when you get up into those types of numbers, maybe it doesn't fit into what they're able to do."

That might come down to the Chiefs' salary-cap position. According to Alex Marvez's numbers in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Kansas City was estimated to have only $7 million left under the 2007 salary cap – and that was in mid-December.

The Vikings are believed to have more than $23 million cap space right now, but head coach Brad Childress and Rick Spielman, the team's vice president of player personnel, said they want to build the personnel long-term through the draft.

Gonzalez would undoubtedly be a nice safety net for a young starting quarterback like the Vikings' Tarvaris Jackson, but Gonzalez's frustration with the Chiefs offense in their playoff loss seemed similar to the concerns voiced by some Vikings players about their own offense.

"We can't run, run, pass," Gonzalez told Warpaint Illustrated. "When you have nine guys in the box, you have to open it up with the pass. Something has to change. We have the weapons to do it, but we didn't do it."

Whether he has the chance to correct that with the Chiefs in 2007 remains to be seen.

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