Tony Gonzalez is retired.
He's never going to play another down for the Falcons or any other NFL team ever again. And that's ok. But Atlanta needs to find someone to replace the future Hall of Famer. That's much easier said than done, as he provided much more than just great talent on the field. He was a great example off of it.
Atlanta has a very good locker room because of what general manager Thomas Dimitroff has been able to put together. However, the Falcons need to figure out a way to replace the production that Gonzalez left. How will Atlanta be able to replace 83 catches, 859 yards and eight touchdowns?
Well, they have some options in-house. So they could go that route. There's also the NFL draft. But on top of it all, there is one way they could even upgrade over the best tight end ever to play the game.
One way the Falcons could replace the long-time veteran is by going with either Levine Toilolo or Chase Coffman as the starting tight end in 2014. They could use the other in the second tight end role as a slot receiver/joker-style role that Tony Gonzalez ran in 2013.
In the preseason in 2013, Coffman and Toilolo both looked like they understood they could have a role in the future. Coffman in particular showed his talent with Ryan on the field and was able to catch 11 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown in preseason.
Coffman was able to line up as the joker in the slot and as the second guy on the line at tight end. Then, the season started and the Falcons obviously felt that Toilolo was the best in-line they had on the team, as he would play on the line when he and Gonzalez were on the field together.
However, 2014 is a new year. And with a new year means new competition. So the Falcons need to make sure they have the best options they can get. While Toilolo and Coffman are good, bringing in a draft pick is always a good idea for competition.
The best and most affordable option outside of sticking with just in-house guys is to look toward the NFL draft. And this year has quite a few solid prospects for the Falcons; there are two main categories these guys would fall under, too.
First is H-back or "joker" types. These guys can basically play fullback, second tight end, line up in the slot or even line up out wide. These are normally smaller, quicker pass-catching types who can seal blocks on the edge, but are used more to create mismatches.
The best options include Jacob Pederson, Chris Coyle and Gator Hoskins. These guys all looks to be selected from the fourth round to the seventh round. They all have similar skill sets in that they are solid overall blockers, but their best usage is as pass-catchers.
Other than H-backs and jokers, there's the standard in-line kinds of tight ends. These are the ones that line up right off of the tackle's shoulder to either side of the quarterback. They normally run short-to-intermediate routes and go over the middle.
These are the bread and butter of a solid passing game on third down and the run-blocking on first and second. The best options include Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jace Amaro and Eric Ebron. These guys all have excellent side and speed combinations and can win by boxing out defenders in the passing game.
All three of these guys would require a high pick. ASJ would require the Falcons' second- or third-round pick. Amaro or Ebron would be excellent selections if Atlanta could find a team to trade down in the draft with to pick up some second- and third-round picks.
Nonetheless, no matter what the Falcons decide to do, they should have a ton of options in the draft. This is just scratching the surface, since some of them should easily be able to contribute early. But none of them will be able to do what the ultimate option could do.
The Coup de Grâce, aka Jimmy Graham
The biggest and best way the Falcons could replace the future Hall of Famer in Tony Gonzalez is with the best tight end in the league—Jimmy Graham. And while this is admittedly a long shot, it is still possible. The Falcons would be wise to go after Graham if he hits free agency.
First of all, they have the cap space to go after him and still be able to aggressively go after offensive line and defensive line talent. So that's not really as much of an issue. By my count, they have close to $17 million in cap space. That's before any cuts, restructures or re-signings.
The Falcons could easily structure the contract to fit in well with Matt Ryan's current deal and Julio Jones' new one. Bringing in Graham would give the Falcons a truly exceptional target and one of the most explosive players in the league.
Adding him to Jones and Roddy White would be like bringing in a bigger, stronger, faster Tony Gonzalez with better blocking ability in his prime. He's literally the only player in the entire NFL who would be an upgrade over the best tight end ever to play the game.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.
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