There was much speculation about the future of the Hall of Fame-bound tight end when Gonzalez recently left open the possibility of a late-season return if the Falcons were in position to contend for the Super Bowl next season. All that talk should be done after Gonzalez took a job as an analyst with CBS Sports.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff has stated numerous times that Gonzalez can’t be replaced. Such is the case when you’re talking about the best to ever play the position.
The Falcons, however, don’t have time to sit around and wish Gonzalez had a few more reps in him. They have to continue to develop Levine Toilolo, a fourth-round draft pick from Stanford who just completed his rookie season. At 6-foot-8, the 265-pound Toilolo has the height and ability to pose a tremendous mismatch for opponents. He has to prove himself to be sure-handed and improve his blocking.
One cannot discount how valuable it was for Toilolo to get most of the practice reps with the first team throughout the 2013 season as Gonzalez nursed a nagging toe injury. And Toilolo made it a point to try to imitate Gonzalez’s daily routine, which showed the 22-year-old was intent on improving.
The Falcons will have to add more bodies at the tight end position, regardless of how quickly Toilolo develops. One name recently mentioned to me from someone outside the organization was Brandon Pettigrew (6-5, 265), a big, physical player from the Detroit Lions who is set to become a free agent. Pettigrew isn’t known for his hands, but he could bring some nastiness to a team in need of an edge on both sides of the ball. It just all depends on Pettigrew’s value on the open market.
Draft-wise, I noticed several Falcons scouts speaking with Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (6-5, 262) at the Senior Bowl, where he was coached by the Atlanta staff. He’s an intriguing prospect projected to be drafted in third or fourth round. He’ll be worth monitoring at the NFL combine.
Also, the Falcons have a tight end set to reach free agency in Chase Coffman. A knee injury held him back last season, but the Falcons would be wise to re-sign him for depth. People tend to forget Coffman set an NCAA record for tight ends with 247 career receptions at Missouri.
Again, the Falcons won’t be able to replace Gonzalez. But they don’t want to leave themselves in a tight spot, either.