GREEN BAY — Robert Tonyan was crestfallen.
After all he’d done throughout training camp, despite how well he thought he’d played in preseason, the Green Bay Packers were cutting him.
Or so he thought.
At 2 p.m. Saturday, the first-year tight end was sitting in his hotel room with teammate Jake Kumerow, playing a video game and feeling pretty good. There was an hour to go before the NFL’s deadline to trim rosters to 53 players, and neither he nor Kumerow had received a call.
Then, Tonyan’s phone lit up. With a text message, of all things.
Come to the stadium. Bring your iPad.
“I just hand (Kumerow) the phone, and he goes, ‘Noooooo!’” Tonyan recounted Monday.
“I was like, ‘Man, I didn’t even get a call. I got a text.’”
As Tonyan made his way to Lambeau Field, Kumerow called his agent, Ron Slavin, and asked if he’d ever heard of a team delivering the bad news via text message. Slavin told Kumerow that it sounded fishy.
“But in that moment, you’re not thinking that,” Tonyan said. “You’re thinking, ‘(Expletive).’”
When Tonyan arrived at 1265 Lombardi Avenue, iPad playbook in hand, he trudged up to the coaches’ and personnel staff offices on the third floor. One of the first people he encountered was tight ends coach Brian Angelichio.
“He was, like, happy to see me,” Tonyan said. “And I’m like, ‘You’re happy to say bye? That’s unfortunate.’”
Confused, Tonyan continued on the personnel department, where he got another unexpected reaction.
“I went up there and they were like, ‘Congratulations!’” Tonyan said. “I’m like, ‘What the hell is going on? Why is everyone happy up here? I’m coming in to turn in my stuff. I got the text.’”
Except no one from the team had sent the text — and the Packers weren’t cutting him. They were keeping him.
“It was a little nerve-wracking, but I was confident in the body of work I put in during the preseason,” Tonyan said. “And I’m just glad it worked out.”
While the perpetrator remains at large — although Tonyan said Packers director of security Doug Collins has traced the text, which came from a non-920 area code — Tonyan can now turn his attention to earning playing time. And given that the Packers kept four tight ends but no fullbacks on the roster, the 6-foot-5, 237-pound Tonyan could have a role in Sunday night’s regular-season opener against the Chicago Bears.
Tonyan, who started his college career at Indiana State as a quarterback before moving to wide receiver, spent the final month of last season on the Packers’ practice squad. While veteran tight ends Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis and Lance Kendricks drew most of the attention this summer, Tonyan quietly put on a clinic on how to make the team as a little-known player.
While he showed his athleticism and pass-catching skills during the offseason program, Tonyan looked the part as a blocker once the pads came on in training camp. As a receiver, he rarely failed to catch balls thrown his way in practice and finished preseason play with eight receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns.
“He hasn’t been bashful at all,” said offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, a former tight ends coach. “He’s not backed down from the physical aspect of the game, and I think he’s made the most out of his opportunities. He’s got hands, and he’s done a good job in protection. (Tight ends’) job descriptions are fairly extensive. Not only have they had to play on the line, they’ve got to play off the line, they’ve got to be a running back from a protection standpoint. We put a lot on their plate both as a protector on the ball, a protector in the backfield. He’s adjusted to the offense well.”
Meanwhile, after clarifying his status with the team on Saturday, Tonyan picked up his phone again. This time, it was to call his mother, Tammy, who was celebrating her birthday.
“It was good to give her that call and give her that birthday present,” said Tonyan, who said he’d be picking up a No. 85 jersey from the pro shop for her. “It was nice to call her and share an emotional moment with her, (since) she’s been there for me since I’ve been playing in middle school. For it to be on her birthday, I can’t be thankful enough.”