Tight End Tony Gonzalez Nearly Traded to Packers in 2008
A 2008 trade between the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers that never materialized might have made the rocky transition from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers a bit smoother.
The Chiefs and the Packers had an agreement in place before the October 2008 trade deadline to send tight end Tony Gonzalez to Green Bay for a third-round pick.
General manager Ted Thompson and the Packers front office had the paperwork prepared for Kansas City general manager Carl Peterson to sign, but Peterson reneged on the deal at the last minute.
Gonzalez, a 32-year-old tight end in the midst of his fifth All Pro season and tenth straight Pro Bowl, was well-known by those in the Packers organization:
- Head coach Mike McCarthy was a Chiefs offensive assistant during the tight end’s first two NFL seasons.
- Negotiator (and 2018 Packers general manager candidate) Russ Ball got his start in the NFL with the Chiefs in 1989 as an assistant strength and conditioning coach. During Gonzalez’s first two seasons, Ball served as an administrative assistant in football operations for head coach Marty Schottenheimer.
- Director of football operations John Schneider left the Packers organization in 1996 to become the director of pro personnel for the Chiefs in 1997, the year Gonzalez was drafted in the first round. He served in that role for three years.
- Quarterbacks coach Tom Clements held the same position with the Chiefs in 2000, Gonzalez’s second-straight All Pro and Pro Bowl season.
- Defensive ends coach Carl Hairston spent five years as the Chiefs’ defensive line coach from 2001 to 2005.
- Secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer was a defensive backs coach and then defensive coordinator with the Chiefs for Gonzalez’s first four seasons.
So why didn’t the trade happen?
The star tight end wanted out of Kansas City
The Chiefs were on their bye week when news of the trade leaked. Kansas City entered the bye week after a 34-0 shutout loss to Carolina, and would finish the season 2-14.
Before the 2007 season, Gonzalez and the Chiefs had agreed to a five-year, $17 million contract on the heels of the team’s first playoff appearance in four years. While the tight end would play six more seasons, he was already just one touchdown shy of the NFL record for tight ends.
Kansas City didn’t exactly upgrade their roster that offseason, instead trading starting quarterback Trent Green to Miami and playing hardball with star running back Larry Johnson en route to a 4-12 season. Before the 2008 season started, All Pro defensive end Jared Allen was shipped off to the Vikings.
Gonzalez, the consummate professional, made it clear to the Chiefs he wanted a trade while continuing to play at an elite level. With quarterbacks Tyler Thigpen, Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle and Quinn Gray all seeing playing time in 2008, the tight end still hauled in 96 passes for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Packers had a need for an offensive weapon for Rodgers
Green Bay was in its first season of the post-Brett Favre era, and Aaron Rodgers was off to a solid start. The Packers were 3-3 when news of the Gonzalez trade broke, and were tied for first in the NFC North.
While Rodgers had a stable of solid wide receivers – Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and rookie Jordy Nelson – the team’s tight ends were underperforming. Fifth-year veteran and starter Donald Lee was an average tight end. While third-round pick and rookie Jermichael Finley showed promise, he was undisciplined and raw. Tory Humphrey would start seven games over Finley.
The Packers had the payroll flexibility for take on Gonzalez’s contract, too. Thompson and Ball had the team nearly $20 million beneath the salary cap. Adding a weapon like Gonzalez would further bolster the Packers’ postseason chances, a year removed from an NFC Championship Game loss.
Why did the Packers trade for Tony Gonzalez fall apart?
History has yet to clarify the exact circumstances behind why Gonzalez wasn’t traded. Three NFL insiders offered their version of what happened shortly after – here’s what each had to say:
- Adam Schefter’s version: The Chiefs had been asking the Packers all along for a third-round pick in exchange for Gonzalez. Green Bay had refused until one hour before the deadline, when the Chiefs were notified that the Packers would trade a third-round pick. The two sides were in enough agreement that the Packers were convinced Gonzalez was going to be in uniform on Sunday until a high-ranking Chiefs official called the team five minutes before the deadline that the asking price was now a second-round pick.
- Charley Casserly’s version: Kansas City executives were negotiating with the Bills and Packers. Buffalo offered a third-round pick, but Gonzalez refused to be traded to the Bills. Green Bay also offered a third-round pick, but had contingencies with the tight end’s contract and how signing bonus money would be paid. The Packers and Chiefs were unable to strike a deal.
- Chris Mortensen’s version: Gonzalez was under the impression he was headed to Green Bay, and the Packers had the paperwork ready 10 minutes before the trade deadline. When the Chiefs raised the asking price in the last minute, the two teams called off negotiations.
Chiefs wind up trading Gonzalez the following offseason
"I'm shocked. It didn't make sense not to do this deal [with the Packers]," the 32-year-old Gonzalez said after the trade deadline. "It's winding down for me and this team is rebuilding. If they said from the get-go, 'No, we're not going to trade you,' that would've been better than how this whole thing unfolded. But that's not what happened.”
Gonzalez’s general manager, Carl Peterson, disagreed. The Associated Press reported Peterson felt no team had “come close” to a reasonable offer.
Peterson, meanwhile, told the Associated Press in Kansas City that no team had "come close" to any reasonable offer, and Peterson made it sound as if he never wanted to trade Gonzalez in the first place.
In Green Bay, Thompson and Ball re-focused their efforts after losing out on Gonzalez to keeping one of their own around. By Halloween, quarterback Aaron Rodgers signed a six-year, $65 million contract after just seven starts.
The Chiefs entered the 2009 offseason with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft, a new general manager in Scott Pioli and a new head coach in Todd Haley.
Kansas City’s new management fulfilled Gonzalez’s wish for a trade, sending him to the Atlanta Falcons in April 2009 for a second-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
The tight end played five seasons in Atlanta, making four more Pro Bowls and his fifth All Pro appearance before retiring in 2013. Gonzalez is eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019. His induction is all but guaranteed.