Now that Ronde Barber has announced his retirement, Tony Gonzalez, but undoing his own retirement announcement, becomes the only player left in the NFL from the 1997 draft still active in today’s league.
Gonzalez did retire after the Falcons lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the most recent NFL championship game, but it was clear from his production last season and the playoffs that he can clearly still play at the highest level. He caught 93 passes for 930 yards and 8 touchdowns last season, his best since joining the Falcons in 2009. It was also the first time he picked up a postseason win after a career filled with losses, including during his Kansas City Chiefs tenure.
Gonzalez signed a two-year, $14 million contract to extend his legacy as the greatest tight end in the history of the league, although there will be plenty who fight that notion. Some even consider him to be nothing more than a “very big wide receiver”, with the tight end position slowly turning into exactly that in recent years.
Barber wasn’t getting the kind of money he wanted from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and despite doing a decent job in his transition from cornerback to safety, decided it was time to give up, leaving only Gonzalez from a draft class that gave the league 31 pro bowlers over the years, and had Orlando Pace lead the pack in that draft, followed by the likes of Walter Jones, James Farrior and others before Gonzalez was taken with the 13th pick.
Barber was the 66th pick in that draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coming a little later than his twin brother Tiki, who was the 36th overall pick by the New York Giants.