This position will be a big question mark for the team going forward due to expected retirement of Tony Gonzalez. The Falcons will certainly leave the door open for Gonzalez’s return in 2013, but they will likely proceed with the expectation that he won’t be back. And even if he does return, the still must operate under the assumption that 2013 will be his final year and need to put a plan in place that will give them options for the future.
The Falcons need to find a starter at this position since they don’t have any viable candidates already on the roster. Chase Coffman, Michael Palmer, and Tommy Gallarda all fit the bill as backups, but none has shown enough to think that they are ready to step into the mantle as a potential starting option for the Falcons in 2013. Palmer is a restricted free agent and likely will be re-signed. Both Coffman and Gallarda are under contract for 2013, but neither will be guaranteed a roster spot. More than likely, all three will be competing for at most two roster spots next year.
That means the Falcons will need to make at least one major addition here this off-season, either via free agency or the draft. They will have some options on the open market, as there are plenty of solid starting-caliber tight ends. But if the Falcons are looking for a more permanent solution, the draft is probably the best avenue.
The Falcons may also opt to look to bolster this position with two possible players as opposed to one to try and fill Gonzalez’s gigantic shoes. Other teams have had a lot of success finding those in recent drafts (e.g. Indianapolis, Baltimore, and New England), but it could involve both a mix of free agency and the draft in Atlanta.
The Falcons are looking for a tight end that is comfortable playing with his hand on the ground, as Gonzalez has been and what Dirk Koetter has principally utilized in his offense over the years. That is becoming less en vogue in the college game because of the proliferation of the spread offense which often utilizes tight ends as oversized slot receivers. The ideal candidate will be also someone that can help challenge downfield, as that was one of the few areas of weakness for Gonzalez. But more importantly, the Falcons will want a tight end that can fill Gonzo’s shoes on third downs. Gonzalez was one of the best in that role as well as in the redzone. While players like Julio Jones and Roddy White coupled with a hopefully improved ground attack can help alleviate their redzone issues, the Falcons will want to find someone that can move the chains on third down.