The NFL off-season is an interesting place and anything of note becomes front-page news for a nation (and especially a region) where football rules everything in the sports media. The Atlanta Falcons were embroiled in a mini-”scandal” on Thursday afternoon, and it all emanated from one small quote from future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.
— ESPN The Magazine (@ESPNMag) February 6, 2014
The recently-retired Gonzalez referenced Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan as “not elite” in an interview excerpt with ESPN the Magazine, and immediately, the world came crashing down. “Tony Gonzalez bashes Matt Ryan!” was a popular headline concept for the remainder of the day, but my question is this:
Why is this a controversy again?
Think about what Gonzalez said here. It would be one thing if he called Ryan “average” or even “solid” within the context of saying that he wasn’t elite, but he started the quote with the words “excellent” and “quarterback” placed together. The term “elite” has been made into something that supposedly separates one group from another, but if I were to ask anyone in the NFL whether Matt Ryan was a top-3 (or even top-5) quarterback, virtually no one would say that he was in that class, and therefore, he isn’t elite.
Matt Ryan is a top-10 quarterback in the NFL, and even if you don’t believe that in the aftermath of a disastrous 2013 campaign (when he still put up the #10 ranking in ESPN’s QBR while placing 4th in yards and 9th in touchdowns), there is no reasonable argument that he isn’t a solidly above-average player. The moral of the story is that context is everything, and even when Tony Gonzalez says something “controversial” about his former quarterback, he’s really paying him a sizable compliment.