Two years ago today, a minor transaction by the Packers was tucked into our daily roundup. The move likely went unnoticed by many (the signing of former Alliance of American Football players probably caught more eyes), but fast forward to today, and Green Bay certainly deserves some praise for their under-the-radar move. On April 10, 2019, the Packers re-signed tight end Robert Tonyan.
The Indiana State product went undrafted in 2017, but he managed to secure a lucrative three-year, $1.66MM deal with the Lions. He didn’t end up making the regular season roster, and he spent the majority of his rookie year as a free agent before catching on with the Packers practice squad. Following that 2017 campaign, Green Bay retained the young tight end via a futures contract.
Tonyan ended up sticking the team in 2018, appearing in all 16 games. However, other than a memorable 54-yard touchdown catch, the tight end didn’t do much on the offensive end, and he ended the season having appeared more on special teams (191 snaps) than on offense (67). Still, the Packers apparently believed in his potential, as they extended him a tender as an exclusive rights free agent. That decision (and the subsequent negotiations) culminated in the minor move that was made two years ago today.
Tonyan’s 2019 campaign was similar to his 2018 season; he saw a bit more offensive responsibility, but he still didn’t put up notable numbers. Following that season, the Packers made him an exclusive rights free agent once again, and the player ultimately signed the tender.
The tight end rewarded the Packers’ commitment with a breakout season in 2020. The 26-year-old emerged as one of Aaron Rodgers‘ favorite targets, finishing the season with 52 receptions for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns. He continued producing in the playoffs, hauling in eight catches for 82 yards and one score in two games.
Tonyan was slapped with a second-round tender this past offseason, locking him into a $3.3MM salary for 2021. If he continues producing next season, he’ll see an even larger pay raise as an unrestricted free agent, and a hypothetical bidding war could end up spelling the end of his tenure with the Packers. Still, regardless of what the future holds, the Packers clearly made the right decision by retaining the tight end two years ago today.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.