Robert Tonyan's unlikely NFL path leads him back home to Bears


(670 The Score) Robert Tonyan may have seemed like an odd man out on a March morning six years ago in Evanston. Then a quarterback prospect out of Indiana State, he arrived at Northwestern’s pro day as an NFL longshot and one of a few local athletes who were welcomed to participate.

Few scouts in attendance that day at Northwestern could’ve imagined Tonyan would become a talented NFL tight end. Even Tonyan himself probably didn't envision what was to come. He was signed by the Lions after going undrafted in 2017, released by the team prior to the regular season and then signed by the Packers late that season.

Tonyan debuted with the Packers primarily in a special teams role in 2018, then emerged as a trusted target for star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He caught 137 passes for 1,437 yards and 17 touchdowns over 68 games in Green Bay, including 11 scores in 2020.

Last Friday, Tonyan officially signed with the Bears – the team he grew up rooting for in nearby McHenry – on a one-year deal that will make him a key piece of their offense.

“My dream has always just been to play in the NFL,” Tonyan said. “I had no idea where I was going to be, how I was going to get there, whatever, but I just knew I was going to be in the NFL. And wherever that journey took me or whatever I had to do to get there – changing from quarterback to receiver now to tight end – just playing football is my dream and my life. I love it. It does so much for my friends, family, just giving opportunities across the board just to live a great life and a blessed life.”

As the Bears sought to upgrade their offense around third-year quarterback Justin Fields, the 28-year-old Tonyan was viewed as a strong fit. He's the right complement to Cole Kmet, who has proved to be a quality in-line Y tight end over three seasons with Chicago.

Tonyan has been a productive tight end in the passing game, and his 6-foot-5, 237-pound frame will offer Fields another reliable option.

“Robert is a great addition to our roster with his familiarity of the scheme and pass-catching ability,” Bears general manager Ryan Poles said.

Like Kmet, Tonyan is a local product who grew up watching the Bears. Even as he played for the Packers, Tonyan had a signed jersey in his basement of his favorite player growing up, Brian Urlacher.

Joining the Bears is just the latest milestone on Tonyan's unpredictable path in the NFL, but it’s one he dreamed of all along.

"Did I think I'd play for the Bears? Yeah, absolutely,” Tonyan said. “In my brain, I was playing for the Bears my whole life. I'm just super pumped to be here."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports