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Tonyan's pride in hometown fuels return to Chicago

Bears tight end Robert Tonyan
Bears tight end Robert Tonyan

New tight end Robert Tonyan takes great pride in calling McHenry, Ill., his hometown and the Chicago Bears his favorite NFL team, so much so he still has a signed Brian Urlacher jersey in his basement even after spending five years with the Packers.

While Tonyan spent his early professional career with the Bears' rival, the goal of playing in Chicago has never slipped his mind. On Thursday, the 28-year-old checked that box by signing a one-year contract with the Bears, joining fellow Illinois native Cole Kmet in the tight end room.

"It's one of the most prized organizations in the NFL," Tonyan told reporters Friday via Zoom. "And when you have a hometown team and you're a fan of them growing up, you take a little bit more pride in that and take it more to heart. I think just having as many of those guys on the team as possible, that's how you lean back on the foundation and how strong you believe in this team."

Tonyan is the second free agent from the Chicagoland area to be signed by general manager Ryan Poles this week. Linebacker T.J. Edwards, who grew up in Lake Villa, joined the team Wednesday and also expressed excitement in returning home.

Coming home to Chicago was a factor in Tonyan's decision to sign with the Bears, but offensive coordinator Luke Getsy played an even larger role. The pair spent three seasons together in Green Bay during Getsy's second stint with the Packers as their quarterbacks coach from 2019-2021. In Getsy's final season with the team, he was also Green Bay's passing game coordinator.

Tonyan said he spent most of Thursday talking with Getsy about the Bears' offensive plan moving forward.

"This offense goes through the tight ends, whether it's blocking, passing, whatever it is," Tonyan said. "And just a good pair – Cole's a great tight end. He's big, strong and I think that adding that – that can complement me and him. I'm super pumped. We didn't really talk in super detail because obviously it's early, but I'm just excited to get in this building and get things rolling and just be a part of a team that's ascending in the right direction."

Did I think I’d be a tight end for the Bears? No. But did I think I’d play for the Bears? Yeah, absolutely. In my brain I was playing for the Bears my whole life. I’m just super pumped to be here.” Robert Tonyan

After talking with Getsy Thursday, Tonyan "knew that this was the spot for me." The tight end sees an opportunity to "bring some pass-catching and playmaking ability" to a Bears offense that has continuously added weapons this offseason.

Along with being back in Getsy's offense, Tonyan is eager to play with quarterback Justin Fields, who impressed the tight end during the Bears-Packers matchups in 2022.

"I think he's a mentally strong, young player," Tonyan said. "That's hard to do when you come in the league when you have a lot of, whether it's positive or negative things being said about you in the media, just keeping your cool and playing your game. He progressed so well throughout the year last year. We got to see that being division opponents.

"He's staying in there, taking hits, getting up, popping up, kept coming back for more. That's what you kind of want in a quarterback and a leader, someone who doesn't quit or back down, playing through injuries or whatever it may be. I'm just super excited to be a part of that."

Having an even-keeled personality is something Tonyan and Fields share. For Tonyan that calm presence comes from his untraditional journey to being an NFL tight end as he's learned to always "just keep going."

When Tonyan was in high school at McHenry Community, he appeared to have a future at quarterback as he set the school record with 5,000 career passing yards and earned all-conference honors as a junior and senior.

Tonyan went on to be a quarterback for Indiana State in 2013, playing in 11 games, before transitioning to wide receiver the following season and remaining at the position for the remainder of his college career. Then after going undrafted in 2017, Tonyan transitioned to tight end, was picked up by the Lions then cut after training camp.

While Tonyan didn't always know how his football career would shake out, he never lost confidence he would find his way to the league and, eventually, end up back in Chicago.

"I had no idea where I was going to be, how I was going to get there, whatever," Tonyan said, "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. Did I think I'd be a tight end for the Bears? No. But did I think I'd play for the Bears? Yeah, absolutely. In my brain I was playing for the Bears my whole life. I'm just super pumped to be here."

Take a look at new Bears tight end Robert Tonyan in action. Tonyan, 28, spent his first five NFL seasons with the Packers, accumulating 1,437 receiving yards on 137 receptions with 17 touchdowns.