According to multiple reports, Green Bay Packers starting tight end Robert Tonyan could begin the regular season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. Tonyan suffered a torn ACL in a late-October contest against the Arizona Cardinals. Tonyan missed the remainder of the campaign. It didn’t prevent Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst from re-signing Tonyan to a one-year contract worth $3.750 million earlier this offseason, but Tonyan was limited to rehab work during organized team activities (OTAs).
Should Tonyan indeed begin the season on the PUP list, the former Indiana State standout would be forced to miss a minimum of four games. It would represent a blow for a Packers offense that curiously ignored the tight end position this offseason.
Tonyan enjoyed a breakout season with the Packers in 2020, recording career-highs in receptions (52), receiving yards (586), and touchdowns (11). In 2021, Tonyan played on a restricted free-agent contract worth $3.384 million while making just eight appearances. If and when healthy, Tonyan is expected to play a sizable role in Green Bay’s reworked passing offense.
The Packers currently lack the depth at tight end to appropriately navigate a setback for Tonyan, and it raises questions regarding why they didn’t further address the position via the draft or free agency. Tonyan’s injury occurred in October and it always promised to threaten his chances of beginning the new campaign at full health. Despite this being known, the Packers didn’t draft or sign a single tight end outside of re-signing Tonyan. For comparative purposes, Gutekunst drafted three wide receivers.
Gutekunst’s lack of activity suggests the Packers are satisfied with the current state of their tight end room, but we’re not convinced they should be. If Tonyan indeed misses regular-season contests, it would likely thrust Josiah Deguara into the starring role. The No. 94 overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, Deguara has worn multiple hats for the Packers’ offense as a moveable chess piece, but he’s yet to prove himself as a consistent pass-catcher. Deguara recorded 25 receptions for 245 receiving yards and two touchdowns last season. Deguara and Tonyan also couldn’t be any more different from a size and skill set perspective, and Deguara doesn’t replicate Tonyan’s potential as a mismatch in the red zone.
The 38-year-old Marcedes Lewis is still in the mix but is hardly expected to move the needle forward given his advancing age. Lewis was essentially a non-factor for Green Bay’s offense last season, having barely surpassed the 200-yard mark despite appearing in all 17 regular-season contests.
Tyler Davis may be the wild card. A sixth-round selection of the Jacksonville Jaguars out of Georgia Tech and UConn in the 2020 NFL Draft, various members of the Packers’ coaching staff have expressed their level of excitement regarding Davis’ growth heading into 2022. Davis has more pass-catching upside than Deguara and Lewis, but he remains an unproven commodity at this time.
A lack of depth at tight end, paired with a potential setback for Tonyan, would matter less had superstar receiver Davante Adams remained in Green Bay this offseason. However, the Packers dealt Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders in a move that significantly lowered the ceiling of their pass-catching corps. The Packers now have a bunch of question marks at receiver, including rookie Christian Watson, who has enjoyed a less-than-desirable start to his offseason training program. Sammy Watkins is an intriguing reclamation project but has largely struggled to stay healthy throughout his NFL career. The Packers’ offense didn’t need to receive major contributions from their tight ends throughout the Adams era because Adams was a target-hog that commanded the majority of Aaron Rodgers’ attention. With Adams no longer on the boundary, and question marks littering their receiver room, the Packers could use more pass-catching help from their tight ends in 2022.
Tonyan’s absence would severely limit the overall upside of this position group. July and August are the most important months of the offseason for Tonyan to prove he can avoid an early-season stint on the sidelines. Tonyan’s questionable recovery period adds yet another concerning layer to the overall makeup of Green Bay’s retooled offensive approach.
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