Tony Gonzalez says he’s returning to Falcons

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The Falcons released running back Michael Turner, cornerback Dunta Robinson and defensive end John Abraham on March 1, leaving the team without its leading rusher and top pass-rusher.

Longtime starting center Todd McClure, 36, also became a free agent on Tuesday and appears to be on the verge of retiring. McClure’s agent, Rick Smith, would not comment on the center’s plans.

Dimitroff confirmed retirement has been discussed with McClure.

“We talked about this recently that we wanted Todd to announce his own retirement,” Dimitroff said.

Gonzalez has more catches, touchdown catches, yards receiving, 100-yard games and Pro Bowl appearances than any tight end in NFL history. Only Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice has more catches.

Gonzalez, who played his first 12 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, is a 13-time Pro Bowl selection.

The Falcons were 13-3 last season and advanced to the NFC championship game. Gonzalez tweeted the 2013 team has “a great shot” to reach the Super Bowl.

“I think in Tony’s mind from what I read from reports from him is that he felt like there was some unfinished business,” Smith said. “I think we all feel that way.”

If Gonzalez had retired, the Falcons might have made tight end a top priority in free agency or the NFL draft. Smith said neither option would have provided a true replacement for Gonzalez.

“I think it would be an understatement to say it would be hard to replace Tony with someone in the draft or free agency,” Smith said. “He’s been such an integral part of our success the last four years. He has a great chemistry with Matt and the rest of our leaders.”

Smith, who frequently allows veterans 30 and older a break during training camp, said he talked with Gonzalez about having time away from the team.

“I want to make one thing clear: Tony is not a guy who wants to miss training camp,” Smith said. “Tony is a team player. He has made some personal commitments to his family. We’ve talked about working with him just like we’ve worked with other guys on our squad in terms of allowing them in certain situations to take care of their personal business. We’ll do that with Tony as well.”

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