Vikings Sign Former Rival Pass-Catcher

Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan (85) runs for a first down on a reception against the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth quarter during their football game Sunday, January 1, 2023, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin Apc Packvsvikes 0101231412djp

Signing players from division rivals is common practice, and the NFC North isn’t any different. The Lions have just signed Marcus Davenport, who was underwhelming in his only season with the Vikings because of injuries. Minnesota, meanwhile, snatched former Packers running back Aaron Jones to bolster the rushing attack after his old team released the veteran.

Vikings Sign Former Rival Pass-Catcher

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Jones will soon meet an old friend of his as the Vikings have added tight end Robert Tonyan to the roster, Adam Schefter from ESPN reported first on Thursday. The franchise confirmed the move a few minutes later.

Tonyan just turned 30 and is a well-known NFC North name. Ironically, he completed the grand slam of teams in the division by signing with the Vikings.

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Coming out of Indiana State, the tight end went undrafted in 2017 and signed with the Lions, but he didn’t make the team and ended up on the waiver wire. Green Bay signed him to the practice squad. His NFL debut came in 2018 when he appeared in all 16 games and caught four passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. He followed that up by having another depth role in 2019 before his breakout season arrived in 2020.

Tonyan caught 52 passes for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns and became a popular target for Aaron Rodgers. Injuries ruined his 2021 season, but he bounced back in 2022, racking up another 470 yards. Last year, Tonyan played in Chicago’s subpar offense, catching only 11 passes in 17 games.

In 85 career contests, the veteran caught 148 passes for 1,549 yards and 17 touchdowns.

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The Vikings’ addition is notable because Tonyan is a much more proven receiver than the other tight ends on the roster besides T.J. Hockenson. Star player Hockenson might not be ready in the first few games of the season after his knee injury, but Kevin O’Connell’s offense requires a passing threat in the middle of the field.

Tonyan is 30 years old and might not quite be as explosive as he was a few years back, but he should still be a decent weapon. At the NFL Combine in 2017, he ran the 40-yard dash in a speedy 4.58 seconds, and the Packers used him as a deep threat in the passing game, where Rodgers regularly found him for touchdowns. That’s an element the other guys in the room can’t bring to the table.

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Those other guys include last year’s free-agent addition Josh Oliver and veteran depth player Johnny Mundt. The former was a highly-touted run-blocker when the Vikings signed him. He indeed excelled as a blocker, though he isn’t an asset in the passing game. Mundt took that lead-receiving tight-end role sans Hockenson and had a pair of productive contests in the last two weeks of the season.

More competitors include 2022 seventh-rounder Nick Muse, who hasn’t been much of a factor in his two seasons with the club, and undrafted rookie Trey Knox out of South Carolina. Sammis Reyes was added to the roster after a successful tryout at rookie minicamp.

Tonyan is by far the most accomplished pass-catcher in the tight end room behind Hockenson, and if his athleticism is still there, he could be in line for a significant role early in the season.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt