The time to franchise tag players has come and gone, and free agency in the NFL gets going next week. The most notable names being talked about for the Green Bay Packers are Aaron Jones and Corey Linsley. They opted not to franchise tag Jones, and a new deal for Linsley seems unlikely given their cap situation. Jamaal Williams and Kevin King are also free agents, among others who were Packers last year.
But what about Robert Tonyan?
It’s worth noting that Tonyan is a restricted free agent. While Jones, Linsley, and others will be free to sign wherever they want next week, the Packers will have the option to match any offer made to Tonyan. In a perfect world, they’d have a good cap situation and be able to bring him back. But it’s a bleak situation this year.
Why bring him back? Look at his numbers last year. He tied Travis Kelce for the most touchdowns by a tight end with 11. Tonyan was targeted 59 times and caught 52 passes, an absurdly efficient number. He made the flashy plays, the easy plays, and was a really solid fit in Matt LaFleur’s scheme.
The grace and elegance of his somersault were flawless. A nine out of 10 because we all know there’s always room to improve.
Admire the ease with which Tonyan makes the defenders look silly with this block. Just a casual little nudge and three players all fall into a pile, making life easy for the offensive line. The cherry on top would’ve been if he was the first read for Rodgers on this play and Tonyan glided for 20-plus yards downfield.
No. 12 probably wants him back too.
Imagine trying to explain to Aaron Rodgers why his Pro Bowl running back, All-Pro center, and one of his most efficient receiving threats are gone. That’s a conversation I would not want to have. And it’s not as though the Packers don’t want to bring these guys back. It’s a choice, sure, but it’s a choice that needs the proper perspective. Green Bay really can’t do much given the lack of cap room, which is still in the negative right now.
On the flip side, some are wondering whether Tonyan’s season was an anomaly. Others question whether he is a product of the scheme, if Jace Sternberger or 2020 third-round pick Josiah Deguara could put up similar numbers if they weren’t injured. These are valid questions that won’t have concrete answers without watching all three going forward.
It’s a tricky spot for Green Bay, but they aren’t alone. The New Orleans Saints have been cutting players left and right. Many other teams are having to cut back with the salary cap dropping to $182.5 million this offseason.
The Tonyan case differs in one major way from that of other free agents who were in green and gold last year.
It would take a heavy chunk of change to bring Jones back, and someone will be backing up the Brinks truck for him. Linsley is one of the best centers in the game, and he will earn a fantastic payday. Not only is Tonyan going to be less expensive, but because he’s a free agent who can be tendered, teams might be hesitant to throw a large check his way knowing there could be draft compensation coming back to the Packers if they opt not to match a deal for Tonyan made by another team.
The Packers have to decide two things. Is it worth it to take on the money Tonyan will be set to earn to make sure he stays put? Or will this be another difficult decision resulting in saving more cap space? If they opt for the latter route then they have to decide whether they roll with Sternberger and Deguara, or if they try acquiring another tight end via the draft.
Jones and Linsley have chewed up most of the free-agent discussion swirling around the Packers, and rightfully so. While Tonyan’s case is different because he’s a restricted free agent, it’s worth keeping an eye on.