Jacob Tamme could be a factor in the Atlanta Falcons' future under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Or Tamme could end up helping his old coordinator establish the offense in new surroundings.
Tamme, a veteran tight end who turns 32 next month, is one of 17 Falcons set to become unrestricted free agents when the new league year begins March 9. He was an integral part of the NFL's top-scoring offense until he suffered a season-ending right shoulder injury against Green Bay in Week 8 of the regular season.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff said the Falcons’ primary objective is locking up their own players coming off a Super Bowl run. Where Tamme stands in the pecking order remains unclear, but he wants to return.
"I love being a Falcon, love my teammates, love what we have going on here in this organization," Tamme told ESPN.com. "I’m interested to see what the future holds."
Tamme, coming off a two-year contract with the Falcons that had a base value of $2.9 million, didn’t want to speculate about other options, but multiple sources indicated San Francisco is a strong possibility if Tamme doesn’t re-sign with the Falcons. The 49ers are now coached by former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. There's little doubt Shanahan would love to have a cerebral player such as Tamme on board to help implement his offense, although the 49ers just re-signed tight end Vance McDonald to a five-year contract extension in December.
Tamme was the Falcons’ leading receiver after the first three games of 2016 with 14 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown. Then, in a 33-32 victory over Green Bay on Oct. 30, he injured the AC joint in his right shoulder, which resulted in season-ending surgery. Tamme said he was told the recovery process would take to five to six months, and it’s been three so far.
"I’m rocking and rolling with rehab and it’s going great," he said. "I feel like I could play in a month. ... Just been focused on the day to day."
The Falcons invested a third-round draft pick in tight end Austin Hooper last year, and Hooper emerged as a threat as the season progressed as he recovered from an MCL sprain. Hooper, who caught a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, is expected be the featured pass-catching tight end moving forward, with his blocking still a work in progress.
Levine Toilolo, who enjoyed some success in 2016 both catching and blocking, is also set to become an unrestricted free agent along with Tamme. The Falcons also liked what they saw from undrafted rookie Joshua Perkins, who played for Sarkisian at the University of Washington.
We’ll see how much the Falcons value Tamme, who won't carry a high price tag.
"He’s a true pro," tight ends coach Wade Harman said of Tamme during Super Bowl week media availability. "He’s very reliable. He studies his craft. He can be counted on to be at the right place at the right time, executing his assignment. He gets the most out of his ability. It was a credit to him that he was playing some of the best football in this part of his career, in my opinion. After the  season, we targeted some things to improve on and he nailed it in the offseason."
Tamme started his career with the Indianapolis Colts in 2008. He became a favorite target of Peyton Manning, so much that Manning hand-picked Tamme to join him in Denver with the Broncos.
Tamme also developed chemistry with NFL MVP Matt Ryan. We’ll see if that connection continues into next season.