The Atlanta Falcons made a concerted effort last offseason to try and bolster the tight end position with a couple of stopgaps, but might decide to take further steps this year to acquire more permanent fixtures.
The team added veteran free agents Jacob Tamme and Tony Moeaki last March in the hopes that they would provide a short-term salve for the gaping wound that had emerged at tight end the year before. The Falcons tried to proceed with Levine Toilolo as their starter in 2014, but he proved to be a non-factor at best and a liability at worst.
Tamme became the team’s de facto second option for quarterback Matt Ryan throughout the second half of the season once Leonard Hankerson was sidelined and eventually cut. But Tamme struggled to impact down the stretch after having an impressive “second quarter” during the middle portion of the 2015 season.
While Tamme proved to be a functional starter and producer in the passing game, he was unable to provide the caliber of player that could reliably impact and impose fear into opposing defenses. Not to mention, Tamme’s struggles as a blocker were readily apparent throughout the season.
Toilolo wound up functioning as the team’s primary blocking tight end after Moeaki failed to meet those initial expectations. Moeaki is now an unrestricted free agent and probably won’t be back unless the team is unable to find to find an upgrade this offseason.
That shouldn’t be a difficult task as a player like Logan Paulsen, who played under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan while the two were in Washington, could easily slide into that role. Paulsen missed all of 2015 with a turf toe injury, but was a functional injury replacement as a fill-in starter for the Redskins in 2012 and 2013. But Paulsen’s role ideally will be primarily as a blocker and No. 3 tight end, likely pushing Toilolo, who is going likely to enter training camp on the roster bubble.
That leaves the potential for the Falcons to add a true No. 1 option, since Tamme is probably best suited as a reserve H-back rather than an every-down starter. Where the Falcons find such a player remains to be seen as they will have options in both free agency and the draft. This year’s draft class isn’t particularly strong, the Falcons could still find some viable targets on the second day of the draft if they are so inclined.
The weakness of the 2016 draft class could also push the Falcons to look harder at other free agents besides a player like Paulsen. There are a number of younger tight ends with starting potential that simply only need the opportunity that an offense like the one in Atlanta could provide. Indianapolis Colts’ Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener along with San Diego Chargers tight end Ladarius Green highlight the impending free-agent group. The Falcons could also look at players like Jordan Cameron (Miami Dolphins), Jared Cook (Los Angeles Rams) and Martellus Bennett (Chicago Bears) should any of them be released as many suspect this offseason.
None of those potential free-agent signings are certifiable home runs, but all certainly offer upgrade potential over Tamme and help the team get one step closer to securing a long-term solution at the position.
Ideally the Falcons will be able to find a starting-caliber tight end that not only can provide a more dynamic threat in the passing game, but also be a functional-to-good run blocker. If the team cannot find such an upgrade in one player, they could just as easily resort to adding multiple players as they did a year ago.
While getting a young tight end that they can develop for the future might be desired, the limited crop of talent in the draft might make free agency a more viable option this offseason for the Falcons to find any upgrades. But there should be little doubt that the Falcons are going to supplement this position before the offseason is up.