The Green Bay Packers placed a second-round tender on tight end Robert Tonyan yesterday. Tonyan burst onto the scene in 2020, tying Travis Kelce for a league-leading 11 touchdowns by a tight end. Obviously, the Packers would love to have Tonyan back in the mix in 2021 and moving forward, but they also find themselves up against the cap. Tonyan was a restricted free agent, allowing the Packers to place the second-round tender on him, assuring that even if he ends up somewhere else, Green Bay will get a return.
Tonyan was given ample opportunity in 2020, in large part due to the injuries of Jace Sternberger and Josiah Deguara. What he did with the extra workload had to be a pleasant surprise. He finished the year with 52 catches on 59 targets for 586 yards. It was a sight for sore eyes; the Packers have long been trying to find a permanent fixture at tight end after free-agent signings like Jimmy Graham and Martellus Bennett didn’t pan out. Tonyan became a mainstay in Matt LaFleur’s offense and Aaron Rodgers developed trust with the sure-handed pass-catcher as the season went along.
Because Tonyan was a restricted free agent, any team can offer Tonyan a contract but the Packers will get an opportunity to match it. By placing a second-round tender on him, if someone offers Tonyan a contract and the Packers don’t want to match it, they will get that team’s second round pick.
You may think that offering Tonyan a hefty contract and having to give up a second-round pick on top of it is not much of a bargain. But it’s difficult for other teams to determine what type of contract Tonyan would sign that the Packers would also pass on.
Tonyan’s upside is obvious. He’s 26 years old, coming off a very solid season where he proved he can run-block and has very reliable hands. He’s a good route runner for his position and he brings a little edge to the field with him. But there is some concern that last year was an anomaly. Tonyan could be a product of the system in Green Bay. Maybe a lot of tight ends could be plugged in and replicate the numbers he had. While we obviously don’t know for sure one way or another, what can’t be shrugged off is the athleticism and pure talent Tonyan put on display every Sunday.
Tendering Tonyan sets up a win-win scenario for the Packers. If someone else offers Tonyan a lucrative deal, Green Bay has the right to match it or let the tight end walk and receive a second-round pick. It’s a fairly lofty return given how coveted draft picks are in the NFL today.
Many fans wanted Tonyan back, and it’s hard to blame them. He was a spark plug in an offense that needs to keep surrounding Rodgers with options. If Tonyan goes elsewhere, the Packers get the pick, but there’s no guarantee they would use said pick to draft a tight end or another weapon for the offense.
Green Bay came so close last year, tripping up in Lambeau Field in the NFC Championship. Their best bet may be to run it back with as much of last year’s cast as possible while trying to supplement some of the glaring needs elsewhere. Rodgers has familiarity with Tonyan, and there is a growing relationship between them. We’ve learned throughout Rodgers’ tenure under center that it takes time for him to gain trust in his pass catchers. It’s harder to start from scratch.
There’s a chance nobody offers Tonyan a contract. The price tag and the pick may be too much for anyone to flirt with, and Packer fans would love to see him stick around for a long time. But what Green bay did yesterday was expected and provides them insurance in case things head in the other direction.