The Green Bay Packers are betting on Robert Tonyan’s ability to bounce back from a torn ACL and re-signing their starting tight end to a one-year contract for the 2022 season, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Tonyan suffered an ACL tear on October 29 in Week 8’s win over the Arizona Cardinals and missed the final eight games of the 2021 regular season, but he was one of their most reliable receiving weapons prior to his injury and should reload the Packers offense with another receiving threat when healthy again.
According to Bill Huber of Sports Illustrated, Tonyan had a “clean” tear of his ACL back in October, leaving both Tonyan’s camp and the Packers feeling “confident” that he will be ready for the start of the regular season. There is even a chance Tonyan could be ready for the start of training camp, but the Packers have experienced difficulties with ACL recoveries before — most recently with All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari.
Tonyan would have likely been one of the more coveted tight ends in 2022 free agency if not for his injury. He had an emergent season in 2020 that saw him catch 52 passes for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns on 59 targets, verifying him as both a consistent pass-catcher and a dangerous red-zone threat. Chasing a big contract with a new team is difficult, though, when recovering from an injury as severe as an ACL tear.
Instead, Tonyan is settling for a prove-it deal with the Packers that should give him the chance to put another half-season on tape before testing the market again in 2023. Per Silverstein, Green Bay also tacked a void year onto his new contract that will spread out his cap hit over two years and reduce his immediate cost in 2022.
The Packers are now scheduled to have back all five of their tight ends from last season. While veteran Marcedes Lewis could still become a cap casualty, he remains under contract for 2022 along with Josiah Deguara and Tyler Davis. The Packers also tendered Dominque Dafney as an exclusive-rights free agent earlier this week.
The latest Packers news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Packers newsletter here!
Will Packers Stay Committed to Marcedes Lewis?
The Packers have once again taken advantage of the cap space they gained from trading All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams to Las Vegas and recommitted to Tonyan as their top tight end for next year, but it is possible that decision could have consequences for other tight ends on the roster in the coming months.
For instance, Lewis would now seem to have a greater chance of becoming a cap casualty this offseason. The veteran tight end signed a two-year contract extension with the Packers during the 2021 offseason and followed up with a year in which he was once again both a reliable blocker and consistent pass-catcher (23 receptions on 28 targets). Unfortunately, Lewis will also be turning 38 in the next few months and is slated to carry a $4.525 million cap hit into the 2022 season.
The Packers would only create about $870,000 in cap space if they released Lewis before June 1 and would also be stuck with a dead-cap hit of $3.655 million, making it an untenable route for the team to cut him before the 2022 NFL draft. They could, however, increase their cap savings to $1.92 million if they release him after June 1 or with a post-June 1 designation, lowering the dead-cap hit to $2.605 million.
The Packers could also move to restructure Lewis’ current contract — which contains void years in 2023 and 2024 — and push more of his earnings into future years. After all, Aaron Rodgers is a big fan of having Lewis in his arsenal, while age hasn’t appeared to slow him down enough to make him a liability. Then again, maybe the Packers will choose to simply carry Lewis’ contract and come to terms with his current cap hit.
Dafney and Davis could also find themselves in danger of making next year’s roster depending on how the next few months shake out. If the Packers add another tight end in the 2022 NFL draft — especially one with solid blocking capabilities — there might no longer be any use for Dafney, who fizzled in 2021 after coming on strong at the end of 2020. Davis might find himself on the bubble anyways, given the Packers don’t have a compelling reason to carry five tight ends on their regular-season roster.