Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan Jr. is still working back from a season-ending knee injury, but his quarterback believes he can ascend to a “Pro Bowl-caliber level” for them in 2022 once he gets back on the field.
Tonyan has spent the better part of the last year in recovery from an ACL tear he sustained on October 28 and began this year’s training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but the 28-year-old has been participating in team drills at practice since August 29 and making progress toward being ready for the Packers’ season opener against the Minnesota Vikings on September 11.
As of September 8, the Packers were still keeping Tonyan limited in practice and have not committed to him playing against the Vikings just yet, but the reviews from Rodgers about Tonyan’s progress have been encouraging, to say the least.
“He looks great,” Rodgers said on September 7. “He’s really gifted, he has great hands, he’s a really intuitive route-runner. He’s got great instincts. He’s made a couple of plays in practice that are just different than what we’ve had from those other guys in his absence. And it’s no disrespect to those guys. It’s just that the level that he’s capable of playing at is at that Pro Bowl-caliber level, so we’ve got to get him feeling healthy and playing like he was playing a couple years ago and get him going early.”
LaFleur Knows Rodgers ‘Trusts’ Tonyan to Make Plays
LaFleur didn’t have any firm updates on whether Tonyan would be available for the Packers in Week 1, but he does recognize that it will be a big-time advantage for their offense if Rodgers has Tonyan to depend on in their first showing of the new season.
“The familiarity not only with our offensive scheme but with Aaron, just the rapport that they have out on the field, I think is big time,” LaFleur told reporters on September 8. “He definitely trusts him, and so he’s maybe going to fit it into tighter windows knowing Bobby is going to make the play. I think Bobby’s looked good and hopefully he continues to progress. I think every time he steps out on the field it gives him a little bit more confidence in knowing that he can do what we’re asking him to do”
The last time Tonyan played a full season, he caught 52 of his 59 passing targets for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns — finishing in a tie with Travis Kelce for the most touchdowns among tight ends in 2020. His dependability, particularly in the red zone, became the ultimate asset for Rodgers throughout the 2020 campaign and was sorely missed from the back of half of their 2021 run. If the Packers can “get him going early,” he could once again become an X-factor for Rodgers in a post-Davante Adams world.
But first, Tonyan needs to prove his body is ready for the strain of the NFL again.
“I think that’s always the trick for players coming off an injury is just the unknown, how does something feel,” LaFleur said. “They just haven’t done certain movements in a long time or had to block 300-pound men or whatever it may be. It’s just the unknown of responding to an injury.”
Tonyan’s Contract Status Could Boost Comeback Efforts
The Packers didn’t beat around the bush when it came to bringing back Tonyan on a one-year deal for the 2022 season. Even though he missed more than half of last year with his knee injury, they are trusting in what he has done in the past and giving him a chance to prove he can return to form for their offense.
It does put Tonyan in a position where he has more to prove, though.
Tonyan will become an unrestricted free agent at the start of the 2023 offseason and could be competing with a number of other veterans — such as Mike Gesicki, Dalton Schultz, Evan Engram and Austin Hooper — for attention among teams looking for new tight ends. With a strong comeback effort in 2022, Tonyan could potentially become the top option on the market and set himself up for a big payday, but it could just as easily break the other way if he falls below expectations over the next four months.
It is also important to remember that the Packers might not be able to retain Tonyan if he has an excellent year for him. Right now, Over the Cap projects the Packers about $3.88 million over the 2023 salary cap — which is much better than it has looked in recent years — but they also have guys like Adrian Amos, Elgton Jenkins and Allen Lazard all looking for new contracts, too. Keeping Tonyan is certainly doable, but it becomes more difficult if he raises the ceiling on his market value.