Even with Cole Kmet setting new career bests in catches (60) and receiving yards (612) last season, the Bears tight end spot is a bit of a mystery heading into 2022.
Unlike the recent past, when everybody and their momma was part of the tight-end merry-go-round in Chicago, Kmet and Jesper Horsted are the only players at the position heading into 2022. And, while we’re talking about it, Kmet and Darnell Mooney are the only starters among the receivers and tight ends set to return from last year’s Bears team. Point being we need to keep tabs on the available tight ends as obsessively as we’ve been tracking free agent receivers. So … does anyone have an interest in Packers free-agent-to-be Robert Tonyan?
Robert Tonyan (TE) and the Bears
Over at Bleacher Report, Kristopher Knox explores potential bargain values at every position ahead of the NFL’s 2022 free agency period — which begins in two weeks when the “legal tampering” period opens. Not only is this where you’ll find Tonyan name-checked as a possible bargain free agent option, Knox goes as far as to name Chicago as the best fit. And why not? It is easy to play connect the dots here (should you choose to do so).
For one, there is a connection with Luke Getsy. The Bears new offensive coordinator was a coach in Green Bay, and that means (1) Getsy should be familiar with Tonyan and (2) Tonyan should have a good idea of how Getsy’s offensive scheme could incorporate him next season. For another, it’s little easier to imagine a reunion when it comes with reasonable contract projections. Pro Football Focus forecasts a one-year deal worth $5.5 million for Tonyan this offseason. That feels like an absolute steal for a player just one season removed from a 52-catch, 586-yard, 11-touchdown season.
And at the end of the day, there is too much uncertainty in the Bears tight ends room. Kmet is beginning to establish himself as a pro, but he’s got room to grow *and* there isn’t much experience behind him on the depth chart.
Yeah, sure, the Bears could use someone like this to team with Kmet:
Most deep receiving TDs last season (TEs)
🧀 Robert Tonyan – 4pic.twitter.com/5e7SmRomNm
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) April 14, 2021
Here’s the clip of Robert Tonyan absolutely flooring Nick Bosa: pic.twitter.com/5WziLgirih
— Daire Carragher (@DaireCarragher) September 28, 2021
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) December 14, 2020
Giving Fields two potential play-makers at tight end would be a treat. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see how it could work. Look no further than to how the Patriots were able to deploy Hunter Henry (50-603-9) and, to a lesser extent, Jonnu Smith (28-294-1) in getting Mac Jones some easy throws as a rookie. Sprinkle in some vertical field-stretching, and Tonyan could add an element the Bears have been sorely lacking for some time.
Of course, all of this comes with a significant caveat. Tonyan suffered a torn ACL in October 2021. It put an end to his season and it could lead to him being slower to come along as he receivers from the injury. That makes him a high-risk, high-reward option at a value price. He still has much to prove, but there is enough splash tape to make worth a roll of the dice.
Note, however, that Tonyan is just one of a handful of tight ends who could provide similar short-term bargain plays.
Maxx Williams (Cardinals), Mo Alie-Cox (Colts), and Jared Cook (Chargers) are free agents who have connections to coaches hired by Chicago this offseason. New Bears TEs Coach Jim Dray was with the Cardinals last season, so maybe we should be talking up Williams. Cook and Getsy were together with the Packers in 2016. Matt Eberflus and the Colts staffers he brought with him to Chicago should know what Alie-Cox is about.
In the end, the Bears have options, several of whom could make sense. And while TE is not necessarily as high as of a priority as it has been in years past, this could be a place where new GM Ryan Poles gets sneaky value if he plays his cards right. And snagging a favorite Aaron Rodgers target would make it that much sweeter.