Falcons’ Gonzalez changes mind, will play next season

Tony Gonzalez has changed his mind. He wants to play football again.

The NFL’s career leader among tight ends with 1,242 receptions and 103 touchdowns, is coming back to the Atlanta Falcons. After saying he was 95 percent certain he would retire after 2012, the other 5 percent won out.

Hours before free agency began Thursday, Gonzalez tweeted: “The lure of being on such a great team and organization, along with unbelievable fan support was too good to pass up.”

His return was applauded by coach Mike Smith.

“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,” Smith said.

Also Thursday, San Diego released 11-year veteran tight end Randy McMichael; the New York Jets cut nose tackle Sione Po’uha; Cincinnati re-signed defensive end Wallace Gilberry; Arizona re-signed safety Rashad Johnson to a three-year contract; and Tennessee guard Steve Hutchinson retired after 12 seasons.

McMichael would have counted $1.5 million against the Chargers’ cap.

Po’uha was due to make $4.9 million in base salary this season, which would have become guaranteed if he remained on the roster Thursday. The move saved the Jets about $3.8 million on the salary cap.

Gilberry was signed as a free agent last September by Cincinnati and had 6½ sacks in 2012, with three fumbles recoveries, one for a touchdown.

Johnson is expected to start at strong safety after taking the job from Adrian Wilson late last season. Wilson, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, was released by the Cardinals last week.

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