Packers Have a Tough Decision to Make on Tight End Robert Tonyan

The Green Bay Packers will face some tough choices this offseason when it comes to re-signing some of their own free agents. There are still a lot of unknowns such as the health and future of David Bakhtiari and whether Aaron Rodgers will retire, return or demand a trade, but one player with an expiring contract and an unknown future in Green Bay is tight end Robert Tonyan.

Tonyan signed a one-year contract before the 2022 campaign started. The former Indiana State star was coming off a season-ending knee injury suffered against the Cardinals in 2021 which harmed his value as a free agent. As a result, the tight end bet on himself by signing a one-year prove-it deal with the Packers. If he had a strong season in 2022, he would cash in with a big contract in 2023. If he struggled in 2022, the value of his next deal would be significantly lower.

Thus far, the results for Tonyan have been somewhere mixed. The good news is that Tonyan is leading the Packers with 41 catches. His catch percentage, according to pro-football-reference.com, is an impressive 80.4 percent which is the second best numbers of his career, behind his breakout 2020 campaign that saw him catch a nearly unmatchable 88.1 percent of his targets.

Ten of Tonyan’s catches came in one game, the Packers 27-10 loss to the Jets. He was targeted 12 times in that game and gained 90 yards. He has not gained more than 37 yards in any other game this season.

He has also not been as frequent a red zone target as he was prior to his injury. Through 11 games, Tonyan has just one touchdown catch, which came against the Patriots.

The element of Tonyan’s game that has yet to fully return to his pre-injury form is his ability to stretch the field. His average per catch is a career low 8.3, three yards per catch lower than the previous two seasons.

Of course, there are many reasons why the average is lower this season and many of them are not Tonyan’s fault. The Packers offensive line dealt with injuries and instability earlier in the season with both Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins returning from injuries and not always being available. Jenkins eventually switched positions and the Packers benched Royce Newman which gave the offensive line a bit more stability.

Aaron Rodgers also suffered a broken thumb on the final play of the team’s Week 5 loss to the New York Giants in London. This has affected his accuracy on both short passes in the flat and on longer passes as well. The combination of inconsistent offensive line play and an injured throwing thumb hampered the Packers passing game.

The injury Tonyan suffered is also a serious one. It takes an average of 10 months for most players to return to action but it takes two years before players return to their pre-injury form. Tonyan is just 13 months into his recovery.

So, what will Packers GM Brian Gutekunst do? Tonyan will be 29 in April. He will likely be seeking a multi-year contract as this will be the former undrafted free agent’s last chance to sign a lucrative deal before age becomes a factor.

The current roster lacks a tight end who can make catches downfield. Marcedes Lewis hasn’t had that ability in several years and may retire at the end of the season. Josiah Deguara is more of an H-back or fullback and like Lewis is considered more of a possession receiver. Tyler Davis has not seen the field much on offense this season and had a terrible preseason before making the team anyway. He has yet to show much of the potential the coaching staff feels he has.

The Packers are currently over the 2023 salary cap and will have to make some moves to free up cap space to sign their draft picks and some of the other players who will become free agents including safety Adrian Amos, wide receiver Allen Lazard and Jenkins along the offensive line.  

Do the Packers bring back Tonyan, banking on his continued recovery from the knee injury he suffered in 2021, or do they look elsewhere for a tight end who can stretch the field? Would Tonyan come back on a one or two-year deal at a moderate salary with incentives? That is unlikely unless he tests the market and finds no team willing to offer him the money and term he is seeking.

Gutekunst has some tough decisions this coming offseason and Tonyan’s future in Green Bay is one of them. It will be interesting to see if this is Tonyan’s last season with the Packers or if he continues to wear green and gold in 2023 and beyond.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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4 points

Comments (51)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Lphill's picture

November 26, 2022 at 11:21 am

Let him go , draft a tight end .

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jannes bjornson's picture

November 26, 2022 at 11:57 am

Not a head sctratcher, move on. Draft Two TEs from the first four rounds. I have mocked Mayer in the first, but he's moving up to the top ten. Enough patchwork and mediocre UDFAs when this offense is TE driven.

3 points
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Return_To_Sanity's picture

November 27, 2022 at 11:28 am

1st round tight ends bust a lot more than they hit. You know what Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, George Kittle, and Darren Waller all have in common? None of them were drafted before the 3rd round. Kittle was a 5th round pick and Kelce didnt even catch a pass his rookie year. Tight end is not a quick-fix position. Its a crapshoot. No use wasting premium draft capital on a crapshoot position. This team has bigger issues anyways. Sign a mid-level free agent and draft one with a mid-round pick. Thats the best we can hope for.

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dblbogey's picture

November 26, 2022 at 03:31 pm

They could get Sam Laporta, from Tight End U. ( Iowa) in the 3rd round. He'd be an improvement over Tonyan immediately.

3 points
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PackerGravy's picture

November 26, 2022 at 11:22 am

One year prove it deal 🏈

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13TimeChamps's picture

November 26, 2022 at 11:46 am

Isn't that what he is playing on this year?

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Coldworld's picture

November 26, 2022 at 02:12 pm

He’s coming off an ACL. The first months back are often. Not representative. Id be up for a prove it deal with incentives. That would delay the cap hit for some part of the cost to the following year.

3 points
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Gman1976's picture

November 26, 2022 at 12:00 pm

He was a very good player before his injury. Unfortunately, he has definitely lost some speed; and it has been painful to see him run.
We don't know if he is going to fully recover from his injury so I would propose another 1 year deal since we are so thin at TE.

4 points
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PhantomII's picture

November 26, 2022 at 12:04 pm

He had 1 great year 10 TD's. The very next season AR rarely threw to him even though he never drops passes...Then he got hurt. He's not a YAC TE. Draft a TE in round #2 that has good hands and wheels.
This is the easiest decision that needs to be made.

2 points
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marpag1's picture

November 26, 2022 at 01:02 pm

"He had 1 great year 10 TD's. The very next season AR rarely threw to him even though he never drops passes..."

This is complete BS.

In 16 games of Tonyan's big year in 2020, AR targeted him 59 times. In the 8 games prior to his injury in 2021, AR targeted him 29 times. In other words, AR targeted him at EXACTLY THE SAME RATE both years, and Tonyan's huge decline in production had nothing at all to do with AR "rarely throwing to him."

The problem is NOT that AR refused to throw to him. The problem is that Tonyan isn't good.

2 points
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PhantomII's picture

November 26, 2022 at 01:36 pm

59 Targets: 16 Games= 3.6875
29 Targets: 8 Games =3.6250

It's not EXACTLY THE SAME RATE !!! LOL

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marpag1's picture

November 26, 2022 at 02:04 pm

LLLOOOLLL!!!

Really?? You're quibbling about 6/100ths of a target per game?!?

I guess you're right... it's ARod's fault for "rarely throwing to him"

LOL!

2 points
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PhantomII's picture

November 26, 2022 at 02:13 pm

Yep, It's my sense of humor. Suffice to say...Tonyans' not a keeper.

2 points
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dobber's picture

November 27, 2022 at 11:13 am

The problem is that for the last umpteen million years, the Packers have never featured the TE in their passing game. Why invest big $$ when your cap is in trouble in a position you don't use (or maybe don't know HOW to use)?

3 points
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Return_To_Sanity's picture

November 27, 2022 at 11:36 am

Dobber, tight end is also a ridiculously hard position. Theres a reason theres only like 4 really good ones in the entire NFL and the rest are just average or worse.

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marpag1's picture

November 26, 2022 at 12:27 pm

Not a tough decision at all. Tonyan has never been anything but ordinary. Yes, he had one big stat year, but sometimes ordinary players get big stats. No one should pay big money for ordinary players. If Tonyan doesn't like the lowball offer, fine, move on, draft someone or sign another ordinary journeyman... or gosh, maybe even sign someone who is actually good.

6 points
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Bitternotsour's picture

November 27, 2022 at 08:10 am

yes, but he trains with Kittle. that means something, right? he's a good dude, Aaron calls him Bobby. that's gotta be worth an extra couple of million right there.

i guess we all have to wait til Mark Murphy decides how the roster will look next year...

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Bitternotsour's picture

November 27, 2022 at 08:10 am

yes, but he trains with Kittle. that means something, right? he's a good dude, Aaron calls him Bobby. that's gotta be worth an extra couple of million right there.

i guess we all have to wait til Mark Murphy decides how the roster will look next year...

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stockholder's picture

November 26, 2022 at 12:34 pm

I'd sign Lazard before Tonyan. We've seen it time and time again. Speed loss equals over payment.

1 points
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13TimeChamps's picture

November 26, 2022 at 01:12 pm

On an unrelated note...Sean Rhyan has been suspended 6 games for PED violation. I guess if there is a silver lining, he is probably the one player who won't be missed over that span considering he's been a healthy scratch for most of the season anyway. The Packers just seem to be snakebit with their 3rd round picks.

3 points
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stockholder's picture

November 26, 2022 at 03:31 pm

Steroids.

0 points
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Return_To_Sanity's picture

November 27, 2022 at 12:21 pm

FFS. What else can go wrong with this team?

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Leatherhead's picture

November 26, 2022 at 01:32 pm

You would like to have 4 TEs on the 53. So far, for next year, we have one. If we draft a TE, we'll have two. We'll still need two more, and maybe one on the practice squad too. There's plenty of room in the TE room for Tonyan IF the price is right.

He'll turn 29 in April, so it's not exactly like he's a young prospect...we've seen his ceiling. He has an injury history. He's been a part-time player this season, averaging around 30-35 snaps.

He was about a $2.5 million cap hit this year, which puts him 31st among TEs (Marcedes Lewis was 14th).

We still have a lot of season left, and maybe he'll suddenly start catching lots of balls and increase his value, or maybe he'll be hurt again, and that would reduce his value. At 29, I don't know how much of a future he has left with us or anybody else, and I can't really find any compelling reason to offer him any more than the league minimum to return. If he's willing to play for that, as I said, we have room for him. If another team wants to throw some money at him, then we'll take the 7th round comp pick, or whatever.

3 points
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nygary's picture

November 26, 2022 at 01:44 pm

I would only sign him if he accepted an extremely team friendly deal. I mean extremely friendly. He's a JAG nothing more.

3 points
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BAMABADGER's picture

November 26, 2022 at 02:12 pm

Tonyan deserves a contract equivalent with what good backup TEs are paid. He would not start on a majority of NFL teams.

3 points
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NJMagic's picture

November 26, 2022 at 03:37 pm

Depends on Rodgers (again, sigh). If retires/traded & blowing it all up to reset, by all means draft a TE or 2.

But it takes 2-3 years for TE to acclimate to NFL.. so with Rodgers back, makes no sense to rely on a draftee (see offense, 2022). They will need to pay someone ... Just depends if what's out there as a FA is better than a mediocre Tonyan who Rodgers knows.

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jannes bjornson's picture

November 27, 2022 at 11:12 am

Bellinger, Trey McBride, Dulcich, Jelani Woods, Cade Otten, Isaiah Likely all starting or getting significant snaps as rookies.

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Packers0808's picture

November 26, 2022 at 04:59 pm

It makes me sad to think of all the talented TE's we have sitting at home in the Green Bay area and elsewhere!

1 points
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Oppy's picture

November 26, 2022 at 05:30 pm

It's absolutely gut wrenching that the Packers are going to gut legitimate talent from this team because Murphy didn't have the balls to follow up on Gute's decision to move towards the future at QB.

Tonyan is the least concern. We were already midway through a rebuild and now we're going to lose key elements because Murphy pulled the rug on moving on from Rodgers.

What an absolute debacle.

2 points
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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

November 26, 2022 at 08:28 pm

I am fully baffled with the Packers on why they didn't trade for TJ Hockenson prior to the trade deadline. I'm guessing it might have been the first round salary and cap hit. The Vikings got him free for more than half the season. In 2023 they gave up a 2nd rounder, and in 2023 a 3rd rounder. A total steal! Being that it takes a few years for a TE to grow into the position combined that the Packers TE position is desperate I struggle to understand why they didn't trade for him. I would resign Jenkins before Tonyan & Lazard, and Hockinson would have allowed the Pack to let Tonyan and Lewis go this offseason.

0 points
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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

November 27, 2022 at 04:04 am

I agree. Perhaps Hockenson wants big money, though he is signed through 2023 (for $9.33M on a 5th year option). MN sent a 2nd (but gets a 4th round pick back) and also will send in 2024 a 3rd while getting back a 4th or a 5th (it is conditional but I don't remember on what).

I don't know how GB would manage to pay $9.33M in 2023, although I assume they would extend Hockenson and knock several million off. If he won't reach a deal, GB would just trade him, though if they had to they could pay him.

0 points
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Coldworld's picture

November 27, 2022 at 10:30 am

Isn’t the option fully guaranteed? Can they actually undo that as part of an extension? I thought that stuck regardless and thus that his cap hit next year was fixed by as a protection for players subject to the team option.

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dobber's picture

November 27, 2022 at 11:16 am

The option is a contract just like any other. Both sides can agree to tear it up/redo it at any time as part of a new deal.

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Leatherhead's picture

November 27, 2022 at 06:33 pm

Spotrac has us only about $3.5 million over the cap, and we could create $30 million in cap space by moving Jones and Bakhtiari? True?

And yeah, I said a long time ago that we should be trying to steal Hockenson, because the Lions are stupid.

0 points
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SinceLombardi's picture

November 26, 2022 at 09:05 pm

Let him go. One good year, major injury… rebuilding anyway.

2 points
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TheVOR's picture

November 26, 2022 at 11:18 pm

The Packers need to draft a blue chip TE. They haven’t really had a starting workman TE since Bubba Franks.

2 points
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stockholder's picture

November 27, 2022 at 07:55 am

Blue chip? There are No blue chip TEs in this draft. Hockenson was a top 10 pick. And he just got traded.

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dobber's picture

November 27, 2022 at 11:17 am

Until they make a commitment to an offense/scheme/playcaller/QB that features the TE, why would you burn a premium pick on one? I would argue that TEs--as complementary pieces--are made every bit as much as they are drafted.

1 points
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GP1's picture

November 27, 2022 at 07:37 am

Why did we keep Rogers? - Murphy
Why did we keep Lewis? - Rogers
Why are we broke & shithouse ? - Murphy & Rogers

0 points
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PatrickGB's picture

November 27, 2022 at 08:05 am

After this season the Packers will have tough decisions on most everyone coming up for a new contract.

As an aside, I think that Rodgers salary is what is keeping the cap limits unattainable. Unless there is a major drop in his pay, the team will have next to nothing for everyone else.

0 points
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egbertsouse's picture

November 27, 2022 at 08:15 am

Not a tough decision at all. He is a JAG. Get him cheap or get him gone.

0 points
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4theFavre's picture

November 27, 2022 at 09:27 am

Robert Tonyan and I are graduates of the esteemed ‘football player factory’ - Indiana State University, the ‘Fighting Sycamores’. Sign him please …

0 points
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asmith1969's picture

November 27, 2022 at 10:14 am

Tight End arguably has been the biggest position hurdle within the organization. I feel Tonyan has lost a step or two post injury. His impact has been mediocre at best. JD was a horrible draft pick as his stock as a hybrid flex H-back/TE was worthy of a late round pick certainly not a 3rd round pick. Another 3rd round blunder. ML should retire. Steady blocker and locker room guy but I’d rather see him as a TE coach for GB to be honest. Davis is just a body, nothing more, nothing less. This position is in disarray and needs a complete rebuild. GPG! 👊👍🏈

2 points
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dobber's picture

November 27, 2022 at 11:23 am

" I feel Tonyan has lost a step or two post injury. "

Maybe, but it's to be expected: he's still only 13 months post-injury. He raced back to game action.

0 points
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coolhand's picture

November 27, 2022 at 10:40 am

Lewis should be let go. He is no threat in the passing game so when he is in there it's a dead give away that we will run. Davis as well. He has really done nothing to stand out even on special teams. Tonyan and DeGuara are our only real TE threats but they aren't used much. Since Tonyan's catch % is so high, we aren't we targeting him on 3rd downs? Maybe he's not getting open, I don't know, but it would seem to me he can find the open spots in the opponents zone coverages.

1 points
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Return_To_Sanity's picture

November 27, 2022 at 12:26 pm

He cant beat man coverage and defenses rarely play zone against this team anymore. Hes almost never open. Could probly get him open looks if they committed to run/playaction but we all know thats never gonna happen.

-1 points
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PackAttack4155's picture

November 27, 2022 at 11:05 am

Is it really a tough decision? He's a middling player in a terrible TE room. If he's willing to sign a team friendly deal, keep him. Wouldn't be surprised if the Packers start fresh at TE next year.

2 points
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HarryHodag's picture

November 27, 2022 at 11:11 am

Difficult to let a proven TE go. While many will snap their fingers and say there are quick replacements via the draft the truth is good tight ends are elusive to find.

I would give him a one-year deal with the possibility of more in the future if he remains healthy. I would also draft another tight end.

-1 points
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dobber's picture

November 27, 2022 at 11:24 am

"I would give him a one-year deal with the possibility of more in the future if he remains healthy"

Unless it's a relatively large contract with guaranteed money, he'd be a fool to take it. He'll likely do better on the open market.

0 points
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Return_To_Sanity's picture

November 27, 2022 at 11:30 am

Not a tough decision at all. I like Tonyan, but he's clearly not the player he was pre-acl tear. Time to move on. The really gutwrenching part of this is they could've had Noah Fant whos an absolute superfreak just entering his prime.

-2 points
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HarryHodag's picture

November 27, 2022 at 04:21 pm

So Tonyan goes(your call) and you have 40 year old Mercedes Lewis, underachiever Josiah Deguara and special teamer Tyler Davis. Then, like a miracle, the Packers get the top TE in the draft(or not). Most likely not.

So you have virtually no one to strike fear in an opposing defense. Instead of giving a player a chance to fully recover and return you ash can him and hope a bunch of Christmas miracles happen.

0 points
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