FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Tony Gonzalez, who has more catches than any tight end in NFL history, announced Tuesday he is returning to the Falcons for the 2013 season.
Gonzalez, the Falcons' leading receiver last season, said on his Twitter feed "I'm happy to say that after speaking with my family, I'm coming back."
Gonzalez said during the season he was 95 per cent sure he would retire after the 2012 season. His productive season made it difficult to stick with the retirement plan.
"We are very pleased that Tony has decided to come back for another season," said coach Mike Smith in a statement released by the team. "He has been a key component to our success during his four years, and it is great to have the opportunity to coach him for a fifth season. Tony is one of the hardest working players I have ever been around and it will be good to have his leadership and work ethic back in our locker room."
Gonzalez, who turned 37 last month, led the Falcons with 93 catches for 930 yards and eight touchdowns. Each total set a high for his four seasons in Atlanta. He added 14 catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns in the team's two post-season games.
"Tony has been vital to our success over the last four seasons and we are excited that he has decided to return for a fifth season," said general manager Thomas Dimitroff. "He is a great teammate and is a leader of our football team on the field and in the community. Tony leads by example and his professionalism has paid dividends across our entire organization, and we are very happy to have him as a member of our team."
The Falcons were 13-3 last season and advanced to the NFC championship game. Gonzalez could have become an unrestricted free agent Tuesday, but he said he wants to remain with the Falcons.
He tweeted the team has "a great shot" to reach the Super Bowl.
"The lure of being on such a great team and organization, along with unbelievable fan support was too good to pass up," Gonzalez tweeted.
The announcement drew quick approval from quarterback Matt Ryan, who tweeted "Welcome back."
The Falcons were expected to announce a 2013 contract for Gonzalez later Tuesday.
The decision by Gonzalez helps define the Falcons' plans for free agency and the NFL draft. The team must address the tight end position for the future, but there are other more pressing concerns for next season.
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.
The team reached an agreement to re-sign strong safety William Moore to a five-year deal, but left tackle Sam Baker and cornerback Brent Grimes were among players who could become free agents if they don't agree to new deals with the Falcons by Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Gonzalez, who played his first 12 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, is a 13-time Pro Bowl selection.