Packers Have Tough Decisions to Make On Robert Tonyan

The Green Bay Packers are facing some tough decisions this offseason when it comes to potential free agents. While some players’ future will hinge on the possible return or departure of Aaron Rodgers, GM Brian Gutekunst must determine whether to bring back several starters next season and at what price. One of those players is starting tight end Robert Tonyan.

Tonyan became the Packers starting tight end in 2020 after being a backup in his first two NFL seasons. He had an outstanding season that year, making 52 catches for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns. He made a big jump from his first two seasons, catching more than triple his previous career total in the 2020 campaign alone.

One reason Tonyan had such a great season was that the former Indiana State star caught nearly everything thrown his way. Tonyan had 52 catches on 59 targets, an impressive 88.1 percent catch percentage according to pro-football-reference.com.

This past season, however, Tonyan failed to match his outstanding numbers from 2020. He played in only eight games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. His catch total dropped to 18 and he scored only two touchdowns while gaining 204 yards. His catch percentage dropped to 62.1, the lowest of his four NFL seasons.

One thing the Packers front office must determine is whether Tonyan’s 2020 performance was a fluke or it’s something he can come close to replicating.

The drop in performance by Tonyan wasn’t solely his fault. Part of the reason for the drop in Tonyan’s productivity was the injuries suffered by the Green Bay offensive line. When both David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins were out of the lineup, the Packers started the untested Yosh Nijman at left tackle. As a result, tight ends and running backs had to help Nijman by chipping pass rushers to protect Rodgers. That meant fewer opportunities for Tonyan to run pass patterns and to get downfield. When he did run patterns, they were often shorter routes because the emphasis was getting the ball away quickly.

Tonyan is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. So, is it worth it for the Packers to re-sign him?

The tight end position is full of question marks for the Packers. In addition to the possible departure of Tonyan, the Packers have veteran Marcedes Lewis under contract for next season. However, Lewis will be 38 in May. While he is still a strong blocker, he lacks the ability to stretch the field at this stage of his career and is, at best, an outlet receiver with reliable hands on check down passes.

Josiah Deguara is still under contract and will be back for his third NFL season. Deguara took over as the team’s primary receiving tight end after Tonyan was injured. He caught 25 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns.

Deguara can fill several roles and is a better blocker than Tonyan, but he cannot stretch the field vertically the way Tonyan can. Deguara can continue to develop and improve, but he has yet to reach Tonyan’s level of play. Relying solely on him would be a gamble by the Packers although it could be a calculated gamble.

Other returning tight ends on the roster include Dominique Dafney and Tyler Davis although neither of them is considered established receiving tight ends.

Tonyan had a cap hit of a little more than $1.5 million last season according to overthecap.com. Because of the way his last contract was structured, if the Packers don’t sign him to a new deal for 2022, he will have a dead cap hit of a little more than $1.87 million.

Tonyan’s injury may drive down the value of his next contract, but it takes only one team to drive the market up. He will certainly be looking for more money in 2022 then he received in 2021.

GM Brian Gutekunst must determine several things before deciding whether to make an offer to Tonyan. Obviously, the current crop of tight ends on the roster lacks a downfield receiver of Tonyan’s caliber. Gute must also figure out what it would cost to bring Tonyan back and whether he is medically able to return to his pre-injury form as a receiver.

Then, the Packers must see if they can get a player who can fill Tonyan’s role at least as well as the former Indiana State star did for equal or less money.

Of course, most rookies or draft picks take time to reach their potential as they adjust to the NFL so the odds of them making an immediate impact equal to Tonyan’s are not great. Even if an experienced free agent is brought in, they will need some time to learn Matt LaFleur’s offense unless they have already played under LaFleur or a very similar system in the past.

The decisions are not easy ones, but the Packers future will be determined by these kinds of choices now facing the organization. So do they bring back Tonyan or move on?

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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6 points

Comments (39)

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

February 10, 2022 at 12:17 pm

Since we’re already paying him $2 million next year to sit at home and eat Cheetohs, we should probably pay a little more and actually have him play.

He’ll turn 28 in April. He knows the system. If we want to play two TEs, we need TEs who can line up.

Personally, I’m expecting the Packers to take a TE on Day Two of the draft, try to squeeze one more year out of Lewis, use Deguara more. Add Tonyan to that and it’s not a bad TE unit.

9 points
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Coldworld's picture

February 10, 2022 at 12:58 pm

Unless he’s not fit to pass a physical, which is a real possibility.

2 points
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LeotisHarris's picture

February 10, 2022 at 05:44 pm

Oh, c'mon, CW, I'll acknowledge Cheetos are high in sodium and will leave you with orange finger tips if you're not careful, but I don't think they'll impact Big Bob *that* much!

2 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

February 10, 2022 at 01:32 pm

That is dead cap cash. He is an unrestricted free agent. They have to negotiate a new deal for him to show up in 2022. If he does show up he's probably a PUP candidate until November. Not on my priority list to re-sign the guy.

4 points
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Leatherhead's picture

February 10, 2022 at 04:21 pm

This is true. Tonyan already has the money, Nothing the Packers can do or say to change that.

IMO, you offer Tonyan about a million and throw in bonuses for workouts, and roster bonuses, that could bring the total package to more than twice that. If he’s healthy, he’d play better than 50% of the snaps.

0 points
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dobber's picture

February 10, 2022 at 09:59 pm

If they can bring him back on a low money deal so he can show he's healthy and they can keep first crack at him when the cap opens up, they'd be fools not to.

If he can't pass a physical in GB, he's not going to pass one anywhere else, either.

2 points
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Coldworld's picture

February 11, 2022 at 01:39 pm

The question is when he can pass. Until he does we can’t rely on him being even available. I’d sign on the right deal if we had an alternative, but we need an alternative. Given the cap situation this year, I’m not sure Tonyan is a luxury that option we will have space for.

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dobber's picture

February 11, 2022 at 08:04 pm

Well, the Packers will know more about the severity of the knee than anyone else. We'll see how they carry on...

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

February 10, 2022 at 04:12 pm

Agreed Leatherhead!
Plus, don't see why it will be hard to resign Tonyan. McCarthy never utilized him and only in 2020 did Rodgers utilized Tonyan. A case could be made Rodgers should have used Tonyan with his great catching ability even more in 2020, and for sure in 2021.

I think high probability if Love is QB1 in 2022 we see more double TE for blocking and running game. If true, I see the Packers picking up another TE whether a player exchange, or draft. If player exchange high probability a TE involved as it takes a rookie several years to evolve.

3 points
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Leatherhead's picture

February 10, 2022 at 04:28 pm

We ran a lot of double TE last year. If we ran 65 plays in a game, 30 or so were 2-2-1 sets, frequently with Lewis and Lazard as part of our seven man offensive line.

Likewise, I don’t think Tonyan will be expensive. And there are at least 5 TEs that are solid Day 2 draft choices, so I think we’re going to add a good player. For what we like to do offensively, this is a good unit.

1 points
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Swisch's picture

February 10, 2022 at 05:16 pm

First of all, I think Dominique Dafney may become very good. What's his status as far as contract?
Second, getting a guy like Noah Fant may be a good move in a trade involving Aaron Rodgers. A top tight end can be a quarterback's best friend, and that could be a big help to Jordan Love in his formative years.
Third, I like the idea of taking a tight end in the second round of the draft if there are a lot of good ones to be had.
Fourth, if Tonyan isn't going to be ready until November, perhaps the Packers better plan on not having him at all. We saw what happened with Bakh. It may be that we want to keep Tonyan as a possibility to help us in 2022, but not a probability.
Finally, without Rodgers, I'm excited to see a Packers offense in which the tight end position is more prominent as a pass catcher. Plus, it'll be fun to see how the LaFleur offense may be different next season in general with a new quarterback -- including those plays with two tight ends.

1 points
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gkarl's picture

February 10, 2022 at 12:29 pm

Like everything else this off season it hinges on what happens with AR. Given our lack of WR's under contract I think it would be wise to make a decent offer to keep Tonyan around, he know the system and will probably be less expensive than some of our FA WR's. I like his resigning even more if AR moves on, he would give Love a reliable short to intermediate target to go to if needed.

3 points
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packer132's picture

February 10, 2022 at 12:47 pm

I think you let Tonyan go and pick up a free agent or trade for a TE. As stated above, draft one in the 3rd or 4th round. Spotrac had the market value for Tonyan at $10 million though it should be a little less coming off ACL surgery. Who knows if he will be the same player as he was in 2020. I think you let Lewis retire or test free agency and go with Dafney, Deguara, Davis, and Mack.

5 points
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Guam's picture

February 10, 2022 at 12:56 pm

If Tonyan can get anywhere near $10 million, the Packers can not afford to resign him. What little spare room the Packers will have in the 2022 cap should be used to resign either Campbell or Douglas. Both are more impactful players for the Packers than Tonyan.

10 points
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13TimeChamps's picture

February 10, 2022 at 01:30 pm

"I think you let Lewis retire or test free agency and go with Dafney, Deguara, Davis, and Mack."

Lewis isn't a free agent....and I have no idea who Mack is.

-1 points
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Coldworld's picture

February 10, 2022 at 01:47 pm

Mack is a Futures list player.

1 points
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13TimeChamps's picture

February 10, 2022 at 03:58 pm

Got it. Thanks.

1 points
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BruceC1960's picture

February 10, 2022 at 07:35 pm

Don’t see how they can project $10 million if there is a chance he won’t be recovered enough to start the season?

3 points
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blacke00's picture

February 11, 2022 at 08:13 am

What? Who (which team?) in their right minds would pay a TE $10 million coming off a ACL injury? The recovery is one year on average (which mean Tonyan's recovery could be as long as Bahk's). The Packers would be the only team to sign him. Besides, Tonyan was injured playing for the Packers in 2021. because of "Workman's Comp", they have to rehab him ( on the POP list?) until he's cleared to play. That's when he "really" becomes a FA, not at the end of his contract.

0 points
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stockholder's picture

February 10, 2022 at 01:06 pm

Bob grew up. But Bob got injured. He's a Rodgers man. I No longer believe the packers can kick the can down the road. Down the road is a Drop OFF. I'd sign Bob. I'd sign Bob before Adams. But for 1 year. With Rodgers considering retirement. There are No guarantees. The production with a new Qb won't be better than RODGERS. If Gutey doesn't consider that. It's Sabotage. The Reload won't happen.

-1 points
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egbertsouse's picture

February 10, 2022 at 01:48 pm

They can’t dump a boatload of cash on a guy coming off major knee surgery.

5 points
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jhtobias's picture

February 10, 2022 at 01:56 pm

While I agree all the players being talked about are tough decisions . The truth is not one of these players needs to be discussed until Aaron Rodgers situation is settled. Whatever happens with Aaron will determine every other move.

11 points
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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

February 10, 2022 at 04:15 pm

OMG!

Such common sense....(humor intended only)!

1 points
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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

February 10, 2022 at 04:15 pm

OMG!

Such common sense....(humor intended only)!

0 points
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dobber's picture

February 11, 2022 at 08:06 pm

ARod will need to be settled on the first day of the league year. The Packers will know ahead of that what's going to happen and will be able to start planning those periphery players. There won't be much waiting.

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SinceLombardi's picture

February 10, 2022 at 03:26 pm

Just burn it down and take our lumps.. love looked better against Detroit.. become a power running team with a dink and dunk. Make the defense tougher. Except for rasul Douglas it was stat wise same as 2020. Too bad we don’t have Fangio as DC.
Done with Rodgers. He’s just not getting it done in post season. Stats don’t lie. Don’t mind losing a few games to rebuild. Bye bye AR, Tonyan and Lewis.

2 points
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SinceLombardi's picture

February 10, 2022 at 03:26 pm

Just burn it down and take our lumps.. love looked better against Detroit.. become a power running team with a dink and dunk. Make the defense tougher. Except for rasul Douglas it was stat wise same as 2020. Too bad we don’t have Fangio as DC.
Done with Rodgers. He’s just not getting it done in post season. Stats don’t lie. Don’t mind losing a few games to rebuild. Bye bye AR, Tonyan and Lewis.

-2 points
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Roadrunner23's picture

February 10, 2022 at 03:48 pm

Gotta be a 1-2 year incentive laden deal. He’s only done it for 1 season then tore the ACL which of course is no guarantee he will ever match that season again. But he’s the best we got, at least make him a team friendly offer.

5 points
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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

February 10, 2022 at 04:19 pm

Tonyan has more value than many believe if the QB utilized him more. Keep MVS to stretch the field, as well as slants across the middle with Tonyan working the middle of the field to the sidelines. Pick up trade WR, and draft one high.

Packers offensively do this to go along with running backs and OL and we all will be impressed with results.

0 points
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JQ's picture

February 10, 2022 at 05:49 pm

I like Tonyan and I hope the Packers can find a way to keep him. The idea of a 1 or maybe a 2 year deal with incentives sounds right to me. However, it just takes one team to offer him a pile of money on a multi-year deal and it could be bye-bye RT.

Whether he stays or goes I hope the Packers draft a Tight End to develop. Isaiah Likely out of Coastal Carolina sounds like a legit 'move TE' option. But there appears to be many day 2 and day 3 prospects available this year, depending upon what attributes Green Bay wants in their player. Here are a few I've mocked in simulations:
-Likely, Coastal Carolina
-Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State
-Greg Dulcich, UCLA
-Charlie Kolar, Iowa State
-Trey McBride, Colorado State

3 points
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BAMABADGER's picture

February 10, 2022 at 08:23 pm

FYI, Jenkins was lost during game 11... 3 games after Tonyan injured his knee.

2 points
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PhantomII's picture

February 10, 2022 at 09:29 pm

I gotta say I don't like ML stretch run game. We keep getting knocked out of the playoffs and are overmatched on the OL against a stronger DL we don't match up well against. We would not need all these blocking TE's all over the place if we build a bad ass OL that road grade DL's. That's the fix we need and a heavy dose of fullback play and pulling OG's. I don't mind fast TE's 6'5 or so 250 running 4.5-4.6 range for a tough match up. We keep using our TE's to block DL and half the time they can't go out for a short pass before pressure is on the QB in these games. A big nasty OL and Dillon and Tyler is the answer to our pass game failure no matter who is behind center.

0 points
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canadapacker's picture

February 10, 2022 at 09:50 pm

There is no real reason to talk about RT until both the Adams/AR scenario is clarified and we get an update on RT's injury. Now hopefully it is not as bad or as hard to repair as Bakl's was and since it happened earlier in the year than Bak's everyone will find that out early. But RT's agent probably will realize that the contract offers will be lower than if he had not had such a serious injury.

In any case - he was a vital part of the offense in 2020 but not so much in 2021 even before getting hurt. So will he be able to get some of that back?
Finally - he isnt a Kelce or a Kittle or even an Ertz in his hey days. He doesnt break the tackle and he is good but not the really great guy like Finley.

I hope he comes back on an incentive laden contract - even a one year contract. But agree with others we need to eventually draft playmaker - Deguara is going to be more of a slot type Lewis type of bruising TE if he continues to develop.

-1 points
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BirdDogUni's picture

February 12, 2022 at 11:37 pm

"... but not the really great guy like Finley."

That is the funniest thing I've heard in quite a while... SMH

Finley had 20 TDs in 6 years. Tonyan had 11 in one season.

Finley couldn't block his shadow and dropped more balls than any 3 TEs should.

The only thing Finley was great at, was making that stupid FIN move after one of his rare 1st downs...

0 points
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SwedeBayPacker's picture

February 10, 2022 at 10:59 pm

I might be a tad bit biased when I say keep him, because I love Tonyan :)

1 points
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PeteK's picture

February 11, 2022 at 10:00 am

Tonyan's production was down because of the miss direction play where he snuck out, teams finally covered him. I agree with making him a low guaranteed bonus offer, if another team signs him for more then good for him. As far as ACls, remember Burrow came back in less than a year.

2 points
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LambeauPlain's picture

February 11, 2022 at 10:49 am

I watched most of Nijman's plays and it seemed to me he was not helped much by Tonyan with chip blocks. On a few plays, Big Dog helped him but Yosh was an island for most of his snaps this year and did a very good job in my opinion.

I am still wondering why ML and Stenavich moved Turner to LT and played the slow, lumbering Kelly to RT where he flopped in the SF game. Its was clear Kelly was getting manhandled by halftime. Yosh at LT and Billy at RT seemed to be a no brainer.

Regarding Bob, bad deal tearing his ACL. He will not command much interest in free agency IMO. The Packers can bring him back on a "prove it", incentive laden win/win contract. I think he would cooperate.

3 points
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Dragon5's picture

February 12, 2022 at 11:08 pm

Tonyan and Jenkins are likely non-factors next year, just as Bahktiari was this past year. ACLs typically have a 2 year recovery timetable. Given his size, blocking prowess, and knowledge of LaFleur's system, I would strongly consider converting Lazard to TE if he could add 10lb-15lbs to his frame...Giannis body transformation was epic. Not expecting Kelce, Waller, or Kittle results, but he could put up great numbers like Tonyan did in '20 as Love's safety valve. TE1 paygrade a lot higher than what WR 3/4 brings.

0 points
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HankScorpio's picture

February 13, 2022 at 11:54 am

I'm probably not as sold on Tonyan as many others might be. He put up big TDs numbers once with less than great catch and yardage numbers. He was not exactly taking things to the next level in his brief time before he got hurt. If there is no market for him at all and he can be signed for a cheap 1 yr prove it deal, maybe bring him back

Whether he comes back or not, I think they need to try to draft a TE. If they do want to play 2 TE sets, they need 2 guys that can function as TEs. That means some blocking, some pass catcher. They have more questions than answers there, with or without Tonyan.

0 points
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