It's a safe bet the Falcons will express interest in tight end Niles Paul, if Paul is not re-signed before then. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Paul is one of several tight ends headed for free agency who has played in Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme. The others include Jordan Cameron of the Cleveland Browns and Owen Daniels of the Baltimore Ravens. Cameron has had concussion issues, while Daniels will turn 33 during the 2015 season.
Paul, who turns 26 in August, wouldn't be a flashy pickup, but the Falcons aren't expected to invest heavily in a top tight end, such as Denver's Julius Thomas. However, Paul, a former fifth-round draft pick who just completed his fourth NFL season, would be more than capable of playing his role.
Just ask former Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman, who was teammates with Paul for three seasons.
"He's as tough as s---," Grossman said of Paul. "He's like the one guy in the locker room you do not want to pick a fight with. He's just a tough wide receiver/tight end who shows up on special teams all the time.
"That's kind of how he got his reputation as a rookie, on special teams. Then after a couple of years, they moved him to tight end because he was so strong and could show that, especially in the zone running scheme where basically all you have to do is get your hat in front of the defensive linemen and cut them off. He was strong enough to hold them off in situations where he actually had to do the things normal tight ends do."
Paul, who started his NFL career at wide receiver and then became the starting fullback before transitioning to tight end, obviously can catch the ball. He caught a career-high 39 passes for 507 yards and a touchdown in 2014 while starting seven games.
Paul was a track athlete coming out of high school before attending Nebraska. He posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.51 at the NFL combine.
"Obviously, he's a mismatch for linebackers trying to cover him, with his speed," Grossman said. "I think tight end is a great position for him. A lot of teams have big tight ends that are like extra offensive linemen. I think he's the opposite of that. But he's athletic and really strong. He's perfect for Kyle's system. They don't ask him to block Jason Pierre-Paul one on one."
ESPN analyst Ryan Clark, who played in Washington last season, offered his thoughts on what Paul brings to a team.
"Tough player," Clark said. "He's a grinder. He played really well and produced big as the No. 1 pass-catching tight end when Jordan Reed (hamstring) was out. He's also a really good special-teams guy and a good locker room dude as well."
The Falcons have a tight end with playing experience in Levine Toilolo, yet it remains unclear what role the 6-8 Toilolo will have coming off a season with his share of drops.
Shanahan previously discussed his expectations of a tight end. We will see if Paul reunites with his old coach and ends up in a Falcons uniform.