It’s really only a matter of time before the Lions and T.J. Hockenson get a multi-year deal done, but the price has definitely gone up.
The Detroit Lions picked up their fifth-year option on tight end T.J. Hockenson about a month ago, with a multi-year deal considered a formality and based on some reporting a practical certainty to get done this summer. As with any contract situation like this one though, the price will go up the longer the team waits.
All indications pointed to it, but on Friday it was reported the Cleveland Browns and tight end David Njoku have agreed to a multi-year deal. According NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero, it’s a four-year, $56.8 million deal with $28 million guaranteed.
Based on that raw $14.2 per-year average in his new deal, Njoku now lands among the five highest-paid tight ends in the NFL.
So yes, it’s resume time.
Njoku (five NFL seasons): 148 receptions, 1,754 yards, 15 touchdowns
Hockenson (three NFL seasons): 160 receptions, 1,673 yards, 12 touchdowns
Let’s remove 2019 for Njoku, since he only played four games that season and with at least 13 games played in his other four seasons, and then lean into per-game averages for he and Hockenson over a better sample for the Browns’ tight end.
Njoku (61 games): 2.3 receptions, 28.1 yards, 0.23 touchdowns
Hockenson (40 games): 4.0 receptions, 41.8 yards, 0.3 touchdowns
A difference in roles has to be noted. Njoku has often had competition around him in Cleveland and he seems to have spent some time in the doghouse of coaches, while Hockenson became the Lions’ unquestioned No. 1 tight end upon arrival in 2019.
Hockenson has a Pro Bowl and two 60-plus catch seasons on his resume, while Njoku has only topped 50 catches (or even 40, for that matter) once (56 receptions in 2018).
The Lions should feel more urgency to get deal done with T.J. Hockenson
The Browns are clearly paying Njoku based on what they think he’ll do with Deshaun Watson as their quarterback, not what he’s done thus far in his career. And they cleared the proverbial deck for him to have a bigger role by releasing Austin Hooper this offseason. It’s also pretty clear they overpaid, unless Njoku really takes off moving forward.
My own projection for Hockenson’s new deal, upon news of his fifth-year option being picked up, landed in the neighborhood of the deal Njoku got–four years, $14 million per year on the high side, with about half of the total fully guaranteed. Njoku getting that kind of deal, leaving the Browns being smart to do it or ultimately being proven right to do it aside, naturally and automatically drives Hockenson’s market value up.
The Lions clearly want to keep Hockenson long-term, and there are no indications he doesn’t want to stay long-term. But even with some likely urgency from the team’s side before, Njoku’s new contract will surely drive that urgency to get a deal done with Hockenson to a different level now. As it should.