Each winter, Acme Packing Company breaks down the Green Bay Packers’ roster from the previous year by position to examine the team’s performance and needs in the offseason. Today we continue this series by looking at the tight end position.
Last year, the Green Bay Packers entered the offseason with three players scheduled to be free agents from their tight end group. Two of those three returned for the 2019 season, but on one-year deals. Thus, that same pair of players shows up again on our free agent preview for 2020.
These two players are on opposite ends of their career; one on the “back nine,” as Aaron Rodgers would put it, and one still looking to really gain traction as a consistent and reliable player. Still, with the Packers likely to jettison Jimmy Graham’s bloated contract this offseason and keep Jace Sternberger as the only notable tight end on the roster, it would appear a wise decision to try to bring both of these two players back in the fold.
NFL Experience: 14 years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
Expiring Contract: One year, $2.1 million total ($1.05M base salary, $500k signing bonus, $500k in per-game active roster bonuses, $50k workout bonus)
The Packers’ blocking tight end got a much bigger workload in his second season with the Packers than he did in his first, and with it he seemed to have a much more enjoyable time in 2019 than the year before. While Lewis did not catch a large number of passes — just 15 for 139 yards and one touchdown — his playing time jumped from 18% to 45% of offensive snaps with the change in coaching staff from Mike McCarthy to Matt LaFleur.
After the season, Lewis seemed to be positively glowing about his enjoyment this past season. He told reporters “I think mentally and physically, I was in a really good place this year,” adding that he would “love to come back.”
Each of the past two years, Lewis has played under nearly identical contracts with the Packers, worth $2.1 million in total with a half-million given in a signing bonus and another half-million in per-game active roster bonuses. He has cashed in on the full amount of those contracts, not missing a game in that span.
Another one-year contract for Lewis, with a similar breakdown, would be a logical move for both parties. He demonstrated his value as a blocker in 2019, and if he still feels up for a 15th NFL season when March rolls around, expect him and the Packers to come to another agreement for 2020.
Fun fact: Lewis has now made just over $50 million total over his 14-year career.
NFL Experience: 2 years
Free Agent Status: Exclusive-Rights
Expiring Contract: One year, $570k
The Packers were hoping for a big season out of Tonyan in 2019, his third year in the NFL and second on an NFL 53-man roster. Instead he caught just ten passes, fewer than one per game, despite regularly taking the field for around 25 to 30 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. A hip injury slowed Tonyan in the middle of the season, however, as he left after a 23-yard reception against the Cowboys in week 15 and missed five games.
Heading into exclusive-rights free agency, the Packers can issue Tonyan a one-year league-minimum contract tender to ensure that he will return for a third season in 2020. Given the glowing comments that Matt LaFleur made about him in the preseason — things like “I’m excited about him” and “I think he gets better each and every day, not only in the pass game but in the run game” — it’s a good bet that he will be back next season to contribute in a depth and special teams role at the very least.