1. TE Robert Tonyan
The Lions dealt T.J. Hockenson to the Minnesota Vikings at the trade deadline, yet they have still set the single-season franchise record for touchdowns by tight ends this year (12 heading into Week 18). How sustainable that kind of production is, with Brock Wright and Shane Zylstra having some big games to spike that touchdown total, is a big question going forward–and the answer is that it’s probably not sustainable and a talent upgrade should be sought.
The Lions do have a young tight end with easily perceived upside in 2022 fifth-round pick James Mitchell. But he hasn’t played a ton as a rookie this year, and counting on him to become the clear-cut TE1 next year feels like a pretty huge ask.
Tonyan has not been able to replicate his own big scoring season, 11 touchdowns in 2020, with just four touchdowns the last two seasons combined for the Packers. He missed nine games in 2021 though, and he has rebounded solid with 50 catches and a 78.1 percent catch rate this season.
The Lions originally signed Tonyan as an undrafted free agent out of Indiana State in 2017, but he was released before that season began.
Tonyan and Mitchell could form a pretty intriguing 1-2 punch at tight end for the Lions in 2023. And Tonyan is not going to break the bank in free agency, with Spotrac placing his market value around $5 million per year on a one or a two-year deal right now. The money and term should be right for Detroit, even if Tonyan is a simple placeholder as Mitchell moves toward indeed becoming the No. 1 tight end in 2024.