As the Green Bay Packers head toward free agency and the NFL Draft looking to acquire more weapons at both wide receiver and tight end, there is now more clarity on why one of their once-promising weapons struggled to produce last season.
According to Packers News insiders Tom Silverstein and Jim Owczarski, Packers tight end Robert Tonyan recently underwent offseason surgery to repair a core muscle injury he suffered during Week 5’s win over the Dallas Cowboys and played through late in the season. The 25-year-old tight end missed the next five games with a hip injury after making four receptions for 66 yards to start the season, but he returned to the lineup for Week 11’s road trip to San Francisco.
Tonyan, however, never returned to the same level of play and often looked slow and sluggish in his limited reps. He caught just six more passes for 34 yards on the year, none of which came during the playoffs. Per his agent, Jack Bechta, the core muscle injury “explained why Tonyan struggled to get up to top speed when he returned to action.”
Tonyan’s surgeon, Williams Meyer, was the same who has performed similar surgeries on other Packers such as Geronimo Allison and Greg Jennings, according to Packers News.
Tonyan’s return for the 2020 season is not necessarily guaranteed with him scheduled to become a free agent next month, but the Packers tendered exclusive rights to him last March and seem likely to bring him back for an inexpensive price with two aging veterans potentially departing this offseason.
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Tonyan’s Window Could Be Closing Fast
The Packers are reportedly looking to make a push for Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper in free agency this offseason, which seems like a move that would go hand-in-hand with cutting veteran Jimmy Graham — to save $8 million against the cap — and letting Marcedes Lewis walk. But even if they land Hooper or another big-name tight end like him, there is still value in reinvesting in Tonyan.
Heading into his fourth NFL season without much of a resume, Tonyan might not have much luck if he were to hit the open market in any capacity. The Packers should be able to bring him back without taking a sizable chunk out of the cap; though, adding an established tight end to the roster for 2020 would expectedly push Tonyan to earn his keep in training camp.
The Packers have expressed optimism about Sternberger, a third-round pick in 2019, despite him spending the majority of his first NFL season on injured reserve. He suffered an ankle injury in the team’s preseason finale and didn’t make his regular-season debut until Week 9, but he made all three of his career receptions in the playoffs for the Packers, including a touchdown pass in their loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
“I think down the stretch, especially in practice, you saw the consistency start to come,” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said Tuesday of Sternberger at the NFL Scouting Combine. “It would have been nice to have him the full season, see if that could come a little earlier, but we’re excited for Jace and what he has in front of him.”
The Packers kept four tight ends on the roster coming out of 2019’s training camp and, other than Sternberger’s stint on IR, kept things that way all year. That works in Tonyan’s advantage when it comes to getting another opportunity to impress with the team. If Graham and Lewis are both gone for 2020, Tonyan would be welcomed back as the team’s most experienced tight end if no other tight ends are acquired in free agency.