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Patrick DiMarco looks to keep fullback role alive with Falcons, or elsewhere

Atlanta Falcons fullback Patrick DiMarco was well aware of how NFC South rival Carolina released Mike Tolbert, a three-time Pro Bowl fullback, on Tuesday.

“I was surprised,” DiMarco said. “Mike’s been a good player in this league for a long time. It’s kind of goes to show you how cutthroat it is. Mike will land on his feet. Mike will have a job, probably in the next few days.”

Although DiMarco is set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 9, he'll have a job going into the 2017 season, too.

Maybe it will be with the Falcons. Maybe not.

"I’m kind of unsure of what’s going to happen,” DiMarco said. “The Falcons are going to be good here for a while, and I would love to be a part of it. But it’s a business. Essentially I’ve got to do what’s best for my family and my career. Hopefully the numbers can work out and we can get a deal because Atlanta is a special place. But it’s a business.”

We'll see how much the Falcons value DiMarco's position; fullbacks have been referred to as “a dying breed” for years. DiMarco, a former undrafted player out of South Carolina, played in the Pro Bowl in 2015, the same year he was a second-team All-Pro selection. This past season, DiMarco was a Pro Bowl first alternate behind Tolbert.

The Falcons signed DiMarco to a two-year, $1.495 million contract extension on Feb. 24, 2015. He made $860,000 last season. One would think the Falcons can scrape up enough cash to keep DiMarco, considering how valuable he's been clearing holes for running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman and considering the emphasis on keeping the offensive system in place under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. The Falcons are expected to have between $26 million and $29 million in cap space when the new league year starts, based on a projected salary cap between $166 million and $168 million.

Then again, fullbacks simply aren't a priority these days.

"I keep hearing about the dying position and the dying breed, but I kind of see a revival coming, just with the way defenses want to be faster and more athletic,” DiMarco said. “You get a hard-working fullback with some toughness and you can bring him to the table, you can have some matchups in some good situations.

“But if you look at the good teams in this league, they run with the fullback a lot. You look at New England, us, Green Bay, Baltimore, Seattle, Dallas -- those teams all have good fullbacks and use them a good amount. I definitely think there’s something in the water that has to do with the fullback, running the ball, and having success within the win-loss category.”

DiMarco certainly helped his value with seven receptions and a touchdown on 10 targets this past season, with no drops. He also had a 31-yard reception in the Falcons' 44-21 victory over Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game.

“The fullback position, you’re built to block, and you’re built for that purpose generally 90 percent of the game plan,” DiMarco said. “But when your opportunity is called, there is a skill set that you have to have to be able to catch the ball because sometimes defenses disrespect you and kind of leave you in your own little world, which happened a few times this past year with me.

“The big value in a fullback, though, is opening up holes in the run game and pass protection. I think where I definitely made some strides here in the last two years was just kind of getting better and getting more comfortable in the run-blocking scheme, knowing different angles and different techniques to make myself successful and to spring Devonta and Tevin.”

Not to mention what DiMarco brings on special teams.

“That's huge, especially for fullback,” DiMarco said. “It’s vital to your success. A typical fullback, especially in an offense like ours, plays 25-40 percent of the offensive snaps. You’ve got to make your bread somewhere else, too. When you’re on special teams, you open up eyes to play more on offense. That’s the way that [special-teams coordinator] Keith Armstrong has put it several times.”

All of it seems to add up to a Falcons return for DiMarco, but nothing is guaranteed. He'll likely have the option of reuniting with ex-Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, now the head coach in San Francisco. But he's not speculating about other teams just yet.

"We’ve got a super-young team here in Atlanta and, man, the future is bright,” DiMarco said. “I’d love to be a part of it. If all the stuff doesn’t work out upstairs -- and the business people handle all that -- Atlanta is going to be a good team for a long time. It will always be a special for me.”