‘I know I made the right decision.’ – News from Mercury


Robert Tonyan’s NFL career blossomed over six seasons, catching passes from Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

But all the while Tonyan, a six-foot, 100-pound tight end, kept in his basement the jersey and autograph of a childhood hero, former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Tonyan, 28, grew up in McHenry and played quarterback for McHenry East before moving to wide receiver at Indiana State and tight end with the Packers. His NFL dreams along the way were often colored orange and blue, and this week he made that a reality by signing a one-year deal with the Bears.

He joins a growing roster of Bears players from the Northwest Suburbs, including fellow tight end Cole Kmet, linebacker Jack Sanborn and new linebacker TJ Edwards.

“I thought I would be a tight end for the Bears? No,” Tonyan said in a videoconference with reporters from Chicago on Friday. “But I thought I would play for the Bears? Yes, absolutely. In my brain, I’ve played for the Bears my whole life. I am super excited to be here.”

Tonyan entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2017 and had limited contributions in his first two seasons on the field in 2018-19.

He had a career year in 2020 with 52 receptions for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns, but his 2021 season was cut short nine games due to a torn ACL. He recovered in time to play all 17 games in 2022 and had 53 receptions for 470 yards and two touchdowns. But it took a while for him to feel himself on the field again.

“It’s tough because you don’t play football for a whole year and your body and mind kind of take a look at the real football aspect of things,” he said. “Neurologically speaking, your body is not used to these movements, games, efforts and things like that. But towards the end of the year, in the last four games after our bye week, I started to feel like myself again and to be able to put out my brand of football that I was looking for. I just finished strong and it gave me a better feeling going into the offseason and getting into that process.

Tonyan said he spent most of Thursday talking with Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, who worked with him in Green Bay. Tonyan said he thinks it could be a good addition to Kmet. And he wants to bring another ace up front in quarterback Justin Fields, from whom he saw good progress last season as he watched from afar.

Bears general manager Ryan Poles said in a statement that Tonyan is “a great addition to our roster with his familiarity with the scheme and ability to catch passes.” Poles also brought in new wide receiver DJ Moore and running back D’Onta Foreman last week to help Fields.

“(Fields) is a mentally strong young player,” said Tonyan. “That’s hard to do when you come into the league when you have a lot of things – whether positive or negative – being said about you in the media, just keeping your cool and playing your game. … He stays in there, taking hits, showing up. He kept coming back for more.

“That’s what you want in a quarterback and a leader, someone who doesn’t give up or back down, playing through injuries or whatever. I’m super excited to be a part of it.”

Tonyan makes the switch in the Bears-Packers rivalry during an awkward period in Green Bay, as Rodgers expects to be traded to the New York Jets this offseason and the Packers prepare to move forward with quarterback Jordan Love.

Tonyan said that offseason uncertainty has been “sort of the norm over the years,” noting that he doesn’t find it negative, but just something that comes along with the end of players’ careers. He said Rodgers “has earned the right to have this attention and say it with his future.”

Tonyan didn’t necessarily need to know the details of the Packers’ quarterback plans before making a decision about his next play.

“Just holding my future in my own hands was the most important thing for me this year,” said Tonyan. “Making the right decision, the next step is very cautious. I think – no I think – I believe, I know I made the right decision.”

Joining the Bears is the next step in a twisted journey for Tonyan that has included throwing for 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns at McHenry East. He played one season at quarterback for FCS Indiana State before switching to wide receiver for the last three seasons. He had 150 receptions for 2,047 yards and 20 touchdowns there.

After going undrafted, he joined the Detroit Lions, but was cut before the 2017 season and ended up joining the Packers.

“Some people’s paths and destinations are just different, and that kind of shows that my personality is all about moving forward,” said Tonyan. “There will be ups and downs, but if you can stay balanced internally, just have a vision and goals at the end, and when you see that light at the end of the tunnel, just enjoy it.

“Just trust the process and focus on your own craft and your own work. Worry about yourself. Don’t compare. Just keep working and things will work out for you.


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