Falcons Free Agent Targets: Tight Ends

Brian McIntyre of FalconInsider.com looks at the Falcons needs and options in free agency. Up first, the tight ends.

One month into Thomas Dimitroff's tenure as general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, he made the difficult decision to cut veteran tight end Alge Crumpler, who ranks 4th in receptions (316), 6th in receiving yards (4,212) and 4th in receiving touchdowns (35) on the Falcons' all-time list.

Despite his production, age and knee injuries were catching up to Crumpler, and his high salary, cap number and the desire to rebuild made it easier for the Falcons to part ways with him.

To replace Crumpler, Dimitroff signed Ben Hartsock early in the free agent signing period, but he's known more for his blocking and finished the season on injured reserve. Veteran Justin Peelle led Falcons' tight ends with just 15 receptions in 2008, so it's no surprise that Atlanta's production from the tight end position was far below what the Falcons had been accustomed to.

Falcons Tight End Production, 2000-08

Year

Rec.

Yards

TDs

2000

46

491

4

2001

57

743

5

2002

56

676

5

2003

54

639

3

2004

52

809

6

2005

69

907

6

2006

62

856

8

2007

58

542

5

2008

19

211

2

 Peelle is an unrestricted free agent, leaving Hartsock, Jason Rader and Keith Zinger as the only tight ends the Falcons have under contract for 2009. This collection of tight ends have combined for just 28 career receptions, which makes adding a legitimate pass-receiving threat at the position one of the top priorities Dimitroff has this off-season.

Matt Ryan had a phenomenal rookie season, finishing 11th in passer rating. Among the quarterbacks that finished ahead of him, though, only Arizona's Kurt Warner completed a fewer percentage of his passes to his tight ends.

Quarterback

Rating

Com

TE Rec.

TE %

Rivers, P.

105.5

312

75

24.0%

Pennington, C.

97.4

321

65

20.2%

Warner, K.

96.9

401

25

6.2%

Brees, D.

96.2

413

110

26.6%

Manning, P.

95

371

101

27.2%

Rodgers, A.

93.8

341

71

20.8%

Schaub, M.

92.7

251

55

21.9%

Romo, T.

91.4

276

93

33.7%

Garcia, J.

90.2

244

50

20.5%

Cassel, M.

89.4

327

29

8.9%

Ryan, M.

87.7

265

19

7.2%

Adding a quality, pass-receiving tight end could be just the thing that propels Ryan into the NFL's Top 10 list in passer rating in 2009 and beyond.

Here's a look at some of the Falcons' options in free agency:

Owen Daniels, Houston – As a restricted free agent, Atlanta would not only need to offer the Pro Bowl tight end a contract large enough that Houston wouldn't match, they'd also have to compensate the Texans with a draft choice or two. Considering Daniels' value to the Texans, he'll likely be tendered at the highest possible level. (1st and 3rd round draft choices)

Financially, the Falcons could afford Daniels. With the needs they have on defense, though, they can't afford to give up those premium draft choices.

Bo Scaife, Tennessee – Scaife is the top unrestricted free agent tight end on the market. His 57 receptions in 2008 were 7th among NFL tight ends, and it's possible that the Titans could place the franchise tag on Scaife before Friday's deadline.

L.J. Smith, Philadelphia – Three or four years ago, Smith was emerging as one of the NFL's top pass receiving tight ends. The last two years, though, have been marred by injuries and dropped passes, which his why the Eagles have no intention of re-signing Smith. If he can stay healthy, he could be a free agent steal. That's an awfully big "if", though.

Leonard Pope, Arizona – At 6-8 and 260 pounds, the former UGA star has ideal size for the position, which is why Arizona drafted him in the third round of the 2006 draft. Pope's size and athleticism hasn't translated into NFL success. He's proven to be a below-average blocker at the NFL level and hasn't developed into the red zone threat the Cardinals hoped he'd be. Unlike Daniels, Pope is a restricted free agent who may actually be easy to acquire.

Tory Humphrey, Green Bay - The Packers have done a pretty good job over the years of finding quality tight ends, and Humphrey could be another example of that. Primarily used on special teams and as a blocker, Humphrey's ability as a receiver should be familiar to the Falcons. Nearly 40% of Humphrey's receiving production came in Atlanta's 27-24 win over the Packers last October. Humphrey was undrafted coming out of college and is a restricted free agent. With Donald Lee and Jermichael Finley on the roster, Green Bay likely won't exert much energy trying to retain Humphrey.

Justin Peelle, Atlanta – Peelle is hardly a world-beater, but given the lack of free agent depth at the position, re-signing him and looking for a tight end in the draft might be the most prudent action the Falcons can take to address the position this off-season.

 

 

Brian McIntyre lives in the Boston area. In addition to writing for FalconInsider.com, Brian maintains his own blog (www.macsfootballblog.com) and charts games for Football Outsiders. If you'd like to e-mail Brian, you may do so here.



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