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Falcons free agency: Who on the market can solve the team's tight end woes?

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The Falcons are going to be in the market for a tight end. Does free agency hold the answer?

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Heading into last season, I suggested that a modestly effective season from Levine Toilolo would be fine, given the team's resources at wide receiver. The offense did put on a fine show, especially after injuries, but unfortunately Toilolo did not have a modestly effective season.

That's not to suggest that the hulking Toilolo doesn't have a role in the red zone or as a blocker, because his height and size makes him potentially useful in both situations. It is, however, suggesting that the Falcons will not entrust him with a starting job heading into 2015, and they likely won't leave it up to a draft pick to wrest the gig away from him. The Falcons will be in the market for a starting tight end, then, and free agency seems the most logical place to get one.

This is a solid free agent class, with three slam-dunk starters and some intriguing young players, so the Falcons can invest wisely and likely come away with either a clear-cut starter or someone who can split snaps effectively with Toilolo. Either way, I'd advocate going the free agent route, and here's a few options I would consider.

Julius Thomas

The best tight end available, Thomas is a capable blocker who has 24 touchdown catches over the last two seasons. Yes, he had Peyton Manning throwing to him, but Matt Ryan could do good work him. He's a big, powerful tight end with soft hands, and would represent a massive upgrade for the offense.

The chief issue with Thomas will be cost, as he's likely to be the most expensive tight end on the market and should be courted by many teams. The Falcons can sell him on playing on Atlanta with Ryan tossing the ball and Julio Jones helping to take attention away from him, but they'll need to decide whether he represents the best use of their dollars.

Jordan Cameron

The most logical fit for any number of reasons. Cameron played under Kyle Shanahan last year in Cleveland, he's the second best receiving tight end available and he's both young and productive. He's also not so productive that he'll command an absurd contract.

Cameron's injury history and spotty production are the major red flags with him, and it's fair to suggest he's not an overly capable blocker. You'd be bringing Cameron aboard to be Diet Tony Gonzalez, essentially, and his 104 catches over the last two seasons tell you plenty about his ability to be that guy.

Charles Clay

The versatile Clay has been productive the last two seasons, offers terrific blocking skills and can double as a fullback when you need him to, making him an excellent fit for nearly every offense. He's not a truly great player, but he does everything well enough to make him useful, and I'd view him as a stellar fallback option if the Falcons whiff on Thomas and Cameron.

Jermaine Gresham

Gresham has never lived up to his considerable promise during his years in Cincinnati, but he's been a useful (albeit not flashy) receiving tight end. In five years, he's never had fewer than 46 catches or more than 64, making him a consistent, pretty durable player. No one's going to get overly excited about Gresham, but he's still just 26 and would represent an upgrade.

Niles Paul

Paul has been banged up and overshadowed at times by Jordan Reed in Washington, so he's far from a sure thing. But Paul is a capable pass catcher who is just 25 years old, and he'd definitely be worth a flier from this Falcons team even if they hit on one of the other free agents above.

Virgil Green

Buried in Denver thanks to the emergence of Julius Thomas, Green has been on the field only sparingly and hasn't had the opportunity to show us much. Coming out of the draft he looked like a potential steal for a team given his size, blocking ability and decent hands, but any team signing him isn't going to have a ton of tape to show whether that ability translated to the NFL or not. Again, a quality flier.

You can talk me into Rob Housler (a pure receiver and one-dimensional tight end), Lance Kendricks (quietly a quality player) and Owen Daniels (rapidly becoming ancient, but a decent one-year stopgap) if you're so inclined, but the players above would represent my preferred list. Who do you want the Falcons to sign?