Former Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson in line to get big contract from Vikings

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions made the right decision to not give it to him, but signs are pointing toward T.J. Hockenson getting a big contract from the Vikings soon.

Their record at the time aside (but 1-6 for what it's worth), the Detroit Lions had a significant decision as last year's trade deadline approached. Contract extension talks with tight end T.J. Hockenson were seemingly not going much of anywhere, surely spurred in part by bloated deals given to David Njoku and Dawson Knox.

So keep him? And risk losing him for nothing in free agency after one more year? Or trade him, with that year of contract control as a sweetener, and move forward without him over the rest of the season?

The Lions of course sent Hockenson to the division rival Minnesota Vikings, who are perpetually in a "win now" position for as long as Kirk Cousins is their quarterback and needed an upgrade at tight end. The Lions added draft picks, so it's become a mutually beneficial deal.

Over 10 games with the Vikings last season, Hockenson had 60 catches (on 86 targets) for 519 yards and three touchdowns. Upon his being acquired, it felt like a foregone conclusion he'd be signed to stay in Minnesota long-term.

T.J. Hockenson lined up to get big contract from the Vikings

As offseason work wound down this past week, ESPN Vikings reporter Kevin Seifert (subscription required) reported this about the prospect of a deal for Hockenson.

"While the Vikings’ financial attention has been occupied elsewhere this offseason, most notably in a complicated contract negotiation with All-Pro receiver Justin Jefferson, it’s clear they plan to address Hockenson’s deal as well. Progress is more likely to take place later this summer,” "

A contract extension for star wide receiver Justin Jefferson is No. 1 on the Vikings' list of new deals to get done. But it sounds like Hockenson is a high priority too.

Hockenson will make $9.4 million this year, under the fifth-year option the Lions picked up months before trading him. But 10 true tight ends in the league (not including Taysom Hill to make it 11) now average over $10 million per year, so Hockenson looks like a bargain for 2023.

Spotrac projects Hockenson's market value at $14.4 million per year, on a four-year deal. That would put him behind only Darren Waller and George Kittle in average per year among tight ends in 2024 as things stand right now. The presumption of $30-$40 million guaranteed would put Hockenson in the top tier there too.

The Lions were simply not in the right position to pony up and pay Hockenson what the rising tight end market demands. Their decision not to do so remains the right one, as they now reset the contract clock at the position with rookie Sam LaPorta. And Hockenson will still ultimately be among the highest-paid tight ends in the league moving forward.