The Minnesota Vikings were 7-1 at the trade deadline in 2022 but needed something on offense to keep the momentum going. They chose to upgrade their passing game in a major way by trading with the Detroit Lions for tight end T.J. Hockenson.
The Lions weren’t in a great spot at the trade deadline last year sitting at 1-6 on the season. They were in positions to be sellers and move on from a player that didn’t factor into their long-term plans.
After dealing with each other during the 2022 NFL draft, Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Lions general manager Brad Holmes struck another deal to sent the former Iowa Hawkeye to Minnesota.
Exactly one year later, how does the trade look for both sides? Let’s break it down from all angles from on-field play to assets acquired.
The initial compensation was as follows:
Lions get: Vikings 2022 second-round pick, 2023 third-round pick
Vikings get: T.J. Hockenson, Lions 2022 fourth-round pick, conditional 2023 fourth-round pick. The condition was if the Vikings win a playoff game on 2022, it drops to a fifth-round pick
Why did the Lions trade Hockenson?
For the Lions, it was rather simple. They knew Hockenson wanted to be paid like one of the top tight ends in the National Football League and they weren’t willing to do that.
Jeff Risdon of Lions Wire wrote about the reason the Lions traded Hockenson right after the trade and it encapsulates why really well.
The Lions offense simply isn’t designed around having an elite pass-catching tight end. Most weeks, Hockenson was fourth or fifth on the team in targets. That was the case in Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins, where he caught three of the four passes thrown his way and gained 80 yards. Which leads to the contractual issue…
Hockenson was locked in for $9.4 million in 2023 on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. That’s about $1 million below the franchise tag value for tight ends in 2021. There were already rumblings Hockenson, more specifically his representation, was looking to strike a rich new deal this coming offseason that would wipe out the fifth-year option. Something along the lines of what David Njoku, someone with similar receiving production but a much more consistent blocker than Hockenson, got from the Browns: four years, $54.75 million.
The Lions were (rightly) not going to pay that to keep Hockenson, not given his spot in the receiving pecking order or the litany of recurring wounds that keeps him on the injury list almost every week in one form or another. Dealing him away now preemptively ends any contractual negotiation drama. I like that. Making the Vikings wrestle with paying a good-not-great player like Hockenson top-end money? I like that too.
Why did the Vikings trade for Hockenson?
Outside of looking like a true Nordic Viking, Hockenson provided something that the Vikings needed badly: a pass catcher opposite of Justin Jefferson that could take advantage of defenses and make a real impact in the passing game.
Why a tight end? It’s simple: top tight ends make as much or slightly less than what WR2s make on the market. Prior to this offseason, high end WR2s were getting massive deals.
Brandin Cooks: two years, $19.8 million AAV
Christian Kirk: four years, $18 milllion AAV
Kenny Golladay: four years, $18 million AAV
Allen Robinson: three years, $15.5 million AAV
The max value of T.J. Hockenson’s contract is $17.125 million per season and he is better than most, if not all of those players. It’s a current inefficiency in the market that will be course corrected over the next few seasons, especially with how great this tight end class was.
What did the Lions do with their picks?
The Lions have maneuvered a LOT with the Vikings’ picks. They turned the Vikings’ second-round pick (55th overall) into the following.
68th overall: Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker
96th overall: Western Kentucky NT Broderick Martin
219th overall: North Carolina WR Antoine Green
2024 fourth-round pick
They moved back with the Kansas City Chiefs (took Rashee Rice) and the Denver Broncos (too Marvin Mims Jr.) before they selected Hooker. They moved up to select Martin and got the pick for Green in the D’Andre Swift trade.
The Lions still have the Vikings’ third-round pick in 2024 to play with before this trade gets finalized.
What did the Vikings do with their picks?
The Vikings also did some maneuvering with the Lions fourth-round pick which sat at 119.
134th overall: LSU CB Jay Ward
2024 fourth-round pick
2024 fifth-round pick
The Vikings followed the Lions lead in striking a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. They received a fifth-round pick in 2024 to move down 15 spots where they selected a talented defensive back in Jay Ward.
The biggest win for the Vikings was Hockenson. He came into this offense day one and made a massive impact in both the running game as a blocker and in the passing game as a weapon in the short and intermediate levels.
One of the areas that Hockenson struggled in when he was with the Lions was in blocking. With the Vikings, he has been much more consistent and impactful blocker, along with being a more consistent pass catcher. The scheme for the Vikings has helped out a lot with his passing game production, as Risdon alluded to earlier that the Lions offense wasn’t designed to feature a tight end.
Who wins the trade?
Quantifying this is an interesting discussion.
When you look specifically at the trade compensation, it was a fair trade for both sides. The value of the trade equated to a mid-third-round pick. All things considered, that was fine value at the time. If you were to trade Hockenson now, he would likely fetch more than that.
The Lions ended up getting draft capital to help accelerate their rebuild and they currently sit at 6-2 and first place in the NFC North. Will the draft capital they acquired end up factoring in to the rebuild and make an impact? That part remains to be seen. What the Lions did do is make a trade with the Arizona Cardinals for more draft capital and they acquired Sam LaPorta at 34th overall, who has already proven to be a difference maker.
The Vikings got the secondary pass catcher they desperately needed and Hockenson also filled a void at tight end in the process. In classic Adofo-Mensah fashion, he turned the pick he got in 2023 into more selections. Ward also looks promising as a versatile defensive back but it’s far from certain he will pan out as a hit, just like the Lions selections.
After one year, it’s hard to do anything but declare this a win for both sides. The Vikings got what they needed on offense and the Lions got good capital back in the process.
Who wins the trade?: Both teams came out ahead
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