Gonzo trade shakes things up in Atlanta, K.C.

April, 23, 2009

After 12 years in Kansas City, many of them residing at or near the top of the fantasy tight end leaderboard, Tony Gonzalez is heading east, having been traded to the Atlanta Falcons Thursday in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2010 draft.

So, Tony, do the Falcons qualify as the Super-Bowl contender you were hoping to play for?

With a top-shelf running back in Michael Turner, a young, franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan and an underrated star wide receiver in Roddy White, the Falcons indeed might qualify … if not now then certainly in a year or two. Much of their fortune will hinge on the performance of their defense, ranked 24th in the league in 2008.

But whether this is the kind of move that puts the Falcons over the top isn't why you've come here, right? Fantasy owners care most about the impact on Gonzalez and his new and former teams, and there's plenty on both sides to like.

Gonzalez himself might not see much of a change in value. Working with an up-and-coming talent like Ryan will keep him productive, and surely won't trouble his prospective fantasy owners anywhere near as much as entering the past seasons working with such luminaries as Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard. Point out that Tyler Thigpen's performance helped pad Gonzalez's statistics in 2008, but there probably isn't a football analyst out there who would place Thigpen on par with Ryan long-term.

If there's anything to worry about, it's that Atlanta is more of a run-based offense than Kansas City. To that point, the Chiefs ran passing plays 56.5 percent of the time in 2008 to the Falcons' 42.9, so it's unlikely Gonzalez will manage as many as the 155 targets he saw in 2008 or 154 in 2007. Something closer to the 123 he averaged from 2004-06 seems a more appropriate expectation, and since he averaged 84 receptions for 1,021 yards per season during that time, chances are he'll remain a top-caliber tight end. Besides, Gonzalez will be working with probably the best quarterback he has had in more than a half-decade.

White's fantasy value might also be of concern to prospective owners, as the 148 targets he saw last season again have a chance to dip slightly. More likely, though, someone like Michael Jenkins won't see as many as 81 or Jerious Norwood as many as 54 instead of White experiencing a significant reduction in throws. Look at what Dwayne Bowe and Gonzalez did in Kansas City last year; they combined for 312 targets, the most by any duo of receivers in the NFL. White was targeted 137 times in 2007; he's probably not going to slip much beneath that number and should have more freedom running routes with Gonzalez on board to detract some defensive attention. I know I'm not downgrading White any in my rankings; he remains a clear top-10 fantasy wide receiver.

Ryan also gets a boost with more depth in the receiving department. With Gonzalez and White, two elite pass-catchers, at his disposal, Ryan has a great opportunity for a noticeable step forward in his sophomore campaign. There's a good chance, in fact, that he'll wind up a top-10 fantasy quarterback in 2009, and should be drafted accordingly.

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, there's no bigger winner than Bowe. As I noted, Bowe and Gonzalez each saw 150-plus targets in 2008, and Kansas City's system was already likely to be pass-heavy in 2009, what with new coach Todd Haley having spearheaded the pass-happy Arizona offense from 2007-08 and the Chiefs lacking superstar talent at running back other than Larry Johnson, who might not even be in the team's plans beyond the weekend. Bowe might even see his number of targets inflate to Andre Johnson territory -- Johnson had 170 last year -- and with Matt Cassel now slinging him the ball has a legitimate shot at a top-10 fantasy wide receiver season.

Cassel probably loses a little fantasy appeal with the thinning out of the Chiefs' receiver corps; he was a fringe top-10 quarterback candidate anyway, and should now be drafted strictly after the top 10 options -- Ryan included -- are off the board.

Brad Cottam and Sean Ryan should battle for the starting tight end job vacated by Gonzalez in Kansas City, not that the winner will come close to filling the veteran's shoes. Ryan might have a better shot having been brought in by this coaching regime, but his winning the role would indicate the team prefers a blocker, meaning no fantasy relevance whatsoever. Cottam, however, might have fantasy backup appeal if he can wow the team during training camp and win the job. Neither is especially draft-worthy.



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