It was somewhat a surprise when the Falcons did not draft a tight end this past April. It’s not a well-kept secret that by all intents and purposes 2011 will be the final year of Tony Gonzalez’s career. There’s still a chance that Tony decides not to hang up the cleats and gloves after the season. But 2011 is his contract year and he’s been forthright that as of today, he expects it to be his last year.
So for the Falcons brass, it’s a safe assumption to expect that there will be a large hole at the tight end position come 2012. And with the team not having first and fourth round picks in next April’s draft, filling that hole is going to be a bit harder to do if the team plans on having a reliable option for Ryan to throw to over the middle of the field.
Given the lack of ideal options for the team currently on the roster and in next year’s draft, it might make the most sense for the Falcons to try and use the contracted free agency period that seems forthcoming this summer to replace Gonzalez.
Of the available candidates, Oakland’s Zach Miller is the most proven receiver. He’s led the Raiders in receiving the past three seasons because of his reliability as a pass catcher and given the Raiders question marks at quarterback. His 9 touchdowns in three years seems low, but considering that Raiders quarterbacks have only thrown 41 passing touchdowns in the past three years, he has a very comparable rate of scoring as Gonzo does here in Atlanta.
If there is a beef with Miller, it’s that his blocking is mediocre. And while he makes his share of big plays, he’s not the most explosive or athletic tight end. But he’s a reliable pass catcher that would fit in nicely as a third option over the middle for the Falcons that can help move the chains on third downs, which has been Gonzalez’s primary value here in Atlanta.
Miller might be hard for the Falcons to sign unless he is intent on leaving Oakland. The Raiders have overpaid several of their own free agents in recent years, and have made every indication that Miller will be among their chief priorities to retain. So it will be hard for the team to lure him away from Oakland with an offer he cannot refuse.
The Giants’ Kevin Boss might be the most talented of the group due to his size, athleticism, and probably being the most explosive of the group. But he is coming off a 2011 campaign where he was second among tight ends with 11 dropped passes and might not have the surest hands. But he is a good blocker and among the group shows the best ability to stretch the defense vertically. His size makes him an asset after the catch, something that Gonzalez has not done well since joining the Falcons. He is also a valued target in the redzone with 16 touchdowns in the past three seasons, and is the more polished blocker.
Boss had surgery on his hip in January, but has been running full speed in player-organized workouts since May. He has indicated that he wants to stay in New York, and the feeling is mutual on the Giants part, but he might be enticed to make his way south to Atlanta if the offer is right.
He would fit in nicely initially as a No. 2 tight end that can block, and would be a good successor to Gonzalez as the No. 1 guy in 2012 and beyond. Boss’s ability to stretch the defense means that he can help the Falcons offense become a more explosive passing attack as well as beef up their ground game.
Other players available on the market are Tennessee’s Bo Scaife. Scaife is a capable blocker and had a good 2008 campaign, but has been fairly middling since. He is 30 years old and lacks explosive big play potential. He has only 7 plays of 20 or more yards, versus over 20 for both Miller and Boss in the past two seasons.
The Falcons might be able to raid their NFC South rival Carolina for one of their two tight ends. Jeff King is a decent pass catcher, but lacks potential as a receiver due to inconsistent hands and lacking speed. But he’s a solid blocker. But he’s probably closer in ability to Peelle rather than Gonzalez. Dante Rosario is also a free agent, and while he has intriguing athleticism and upside, he hasn’t quite put it all together as a receiver and is an unexceptional blocker.
An intriguing option might be Cleveland’s Evan Moore, who is a restricted free agent with a second round tender. He has shown skills as a vertical receiver and backup for the Browns the past two years. But he is essentially an oversized slot wide receiver and has been barely used as a blocker, rarely being asked to work inline. It would be a very sizable leap from him to go to a full-time inline blocker from what is essentially the No. 5 wideout in Cleveland.
It would seem that if the Falcons cannot entice either Miller or Boss to head to Atlanta, there aren’t many great options available on the market. But the Falcons could have a potential coup if they can bring either of them to Atlanta and continue to solidify a group of offensive weapons around Matt Ryan.