Here’s a conclusion I didn’t think I would come to a couple years ago. After the Detroit Lions took T.J. Hockenson with the eighth pick in the 2019 draft, it seemed like he was going to be one of those pillar guys that you could really build an offense with. Early on, it looked like that was going to be something that would come true. In year two, Hockenson would have the best year of his career and was voted into the Pro Bowl. Since then, Hockenson seems like a guy that doesn’t fully fit in.
That’s not to say that Hockenson isn’t a good tight end or can’t be a great tight end. It’s that it just doesn’t seem to be happening in Detroit. You can see that there’s been a drastic difference in his usage since Dan Campbell and company have come to town, and the team has begun to fill out the rest of the offense. One of the big questions early this season was “where is T.J. Hockenson?” In the first three games, Hockenson combined for just 82 yards.
He did have a big game against the Seahawks in Week 4. He racked up a big 179 yards and two touchdowns on 12 targets. Since that game he’s gone back down to just nine targets in the last two games. These were both games that the Lions would be missing their top receiving threats in Amon-Ra St. Brown and DJ Chark. You would think Hockenson would see plenty of targets in that time, but he’s been nearly ignored.
This leads you to think that Hockenson isn’t really a part of the Lions’ future and what they plan to do with their offense. Drafting James Mitchell in the draft this past April only furthers that thought. Mitchell brings a whole different athleticism from what Hockenson can offer. Mitchell was used as a tight end, receiver, running back and return man during his time at Virginia Tech. He can bring so much to the table. There’s also Brock Wright, a tight end that the Lions have been using a little more often in 2022. He’s also a much better pass blocker than Hockenson is.
All of this together is why the Lions should really entertain the idea of trading Hockenson away before the deadline next Tuesday (November 1). The Lions are obviously sellers right now, and there’s no doubt going to be a slew of contending teams attempting to load up for a run at Super Bowl. We’ve already seen the Eagles acquire Robert Quinn and the 49ers acquire Christian McCaffrey. The Lions should be the next team to sell to a contender.
The Lions are a team that looks to build through the draft. This is where you take advantage and grab more draft assets. There are teams out there like the Bills, Eagles, Buccaneers, Rams, Giants, Chargers, Bengals, and Titans that could all use Hockenson’s services in order to get over the hump. Teams like the Bucs and Chargers need help on offense just to get things turned in the right direction.
The ball is even further in the court of the Lions because this isn’t a move that’s going to break the bank for the Lions nor the team trading for him. His cap hit for 2022 is just $6.5 million and with much of that already accounted for in the first third of the season, Detroit would be left with just about $2 million in dead cap and a little over $2 million in cap savings.
Hockenson does have a fifth-year option for $9.4 million that’s fully guaranteed in 2023. But that base salary would travel with the team he lands with, meaning none of that would be dead money on next year’s cap, creating significant savings for Detroit next year.
Now, what can you get for Hockenson? He’s just 25 years old and has flashed the potential to be a Pro Bowl weapon, even if he has been inconsistent.
I know a first-round pick is the most desired, and I do think there’s a team out there that might be willing to pay it if they’re desperate, but it’s still pretty unlikely. A couple of mid-round picks seems more realistic. A couple years back, Zach Ertz fetched a fifth-round pick and a reserve cornerback, though Ertz was 30 and on the last year of his deal. Noah Fant was part of the Russell Wilson trade, but it’s hard to determine his perceived value in a multi-player trade.
The closest thing to a potential Hockenson trade we’ve seen in recent years is the 2020 trade of Hayden Hurst. The former first-round pick was traded just two years into his career. While he didn’t have a Pro Bowl season under his belt yet, there was perceived untapped potential there. Here’s what the trade looked like:
- Falcons got: Hayden Hurst, fourth-round pick
- Ravens got: Second-round pick, fifth-round pick
Hurst was valued at a little less than a second-round pick in this trade. So it’s possible Hockenson—who has a significantly better resume than Hurst had—could fetch a second-round pick. However, something like a third and fifth-round pick for Hockenson seems more likely, especially with just one moderately-priced season left on his contract.
There are other players that the Lions could move if they decide to be sellers at the deadline, but moving Hockenson is their best chance to get a good return and they should definitely listen to as many calls as they can.