Tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) was at the Atlanta Falcons training complex for the first day of camp Thursday in Flowery Branch. (Kevin Liles, USA TODAY Sports)
FLOWERY BRANCH — Tony Gonzalez made a commitment to his son, Nikko, a year ago.
Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith was more than willing to accommodate his future Hall of Fame tight end when it came time to keep those promises.
Gonzalez will miss part of training camp, which runs through Aug. 11, in order to see Nikko start his own football career.
“Right now, I’m here,” Gonzalez said on the first day of camp this week. “But there were some obligations I made to my family, more specifically my son Nikko, last year around this time.
“Because I was going to retire. I wasn’t joking about that all of last season. Those commitments are coming up soon. It’s his first year of football. I’m looking forward to being out there and watch him learn how to hit somebody in the mouth.”
Gonzalez holds the NFL record for career receptions (1,069), receiving yards (12,463), touchdown catches (88), 100-yard receiving games (27), Pro Bowl appearances (11) and 1,000-yard seasons (four) at his position. He was set to retire at the end of last year, but agreed to come back for one more kick at the can.
“Physically I feel good,” the 37-year-old said. “I can’t complain. I’m old — but I’m still hanging with the fellas out there.”
Quarterback Matt Ryan had no concerns about Gonzalez being gone for part of camp.
“He always maintains his shape really, really well,” Ryan said Friday. “He and I have a great rapport. We get together a lot. I was out in California prior to training camp just to get some work with him as well. I think that timing and the last couple of days and then when he comes back will be plenty of time. It’s not necessary (that he be here).
“I think it’s a great opportunity for some of our young guys to step up and work with the first unit, Levine (Toilolo) and Chase Coffman and Tommy Gallarda.”
Gonzalez had a team-high 93 receptions for 930 yards with eight touchdowns last season and was named to the Pro Bowl for the 13th time in his career. He helped the Falcons to a 13-3 record, their second NFC South title in the last three years and their third consecutive playoff appearance.
Atlanta is primed for a deep run with the return of its key players, including Gonzalez and Ryan, who Thursday was signed to a five-year contract extension. It’s a complex contract, according to all the powers that be atop the organization, which does leave some room under the salary cap.
The Falcons also already added some significant pieces to the puzzle with the signings of defensive end Osi Umenyiora and running back Steven Jackson.
“It’s incredible,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just like last year. Surrounded by talent. We added talent with Osi and Steven Jackson. Who knows who else they might get in here now that they’ve got Matt’s deal done.
“The sky is the limit on what we can do. But we understand that on paper doesn’t mean anything.”
He will miss some of the middle of training camp before rejoining the team well in advance of the season opener.
“We know that we’re a long way away from where we were last year,” Gonzalez said. “It starts that first game in New Orleans.
“I’m not going to show up the week before the game. I’ll be here a lot earlier than that. I’ll be ready to go, too. You can bet the house on that.”