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Lions GM Brad Holmes explains T.J. Hockenson trade: ‘We’re still in the build phase’

Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes explained his thought process on the T.J. Hockenson trade.

Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes took about 10 minutes on Wednesday to discuss the team’s trading of tight end T.J. Hockenson at the deadline on Tuesday. The team sent Hockenson and a pair of fourth-round picks (2023 and conditional 2024) for a 2023 second and 2024 third-round pick.

The biggest criticism facing the Lions in the aftermath of this trade was sending away a talented player who is still young. Hockenson is just 3 and a half years into his NFL career and turned 25 a few months ago. Why couldn’t he be part of the team’s future?

“We’re still in the build phase,” Holmes said. “So with the capital that we received back from a compensation standpoint, I just think it made a lot of sense for us to continue on this build.”

Draft capital is nice. But it’s only potential, not proven talent. Hockenson may not have ever lived up to his eighth-overall-pick billing, but he was a consistently contributing member of the team. Holmes, however, seemed to suggest that the offense—which is currently averaging the ninth-most points in the league—should be able to keep up its productivity without him.

“I think that we’ve proven that our offense can score a lot of points (even though) I’m sure he was a part of it,” Holmes said.

Coach Dan Campbell took it a step further, suggesting that while Hockenson is a really good player, there are some things they may able to do better with other players in his spot.

“I look at it for it’s an opportunity for other guys,” Campbell said. “And as good as T.J. was, there’s things that we’ll be able to do better potentially. Having other guys on the field. I mean, that’s – there is always some of that give and take no matter what player’s out there.”

When asked to give specifics on things they could do better without Hockenson, Campbell refused to answer, saying he didn’t want to reveal any game plans. Although, it doesn’t take much imagination to believe Campbell is hinting at Hockenson’s run blocking, which didn’t develop much during his time in Detroit.

Another thing complicating the Hockenson situation was money. The tight end was about to earn $9.4 million guaranteed on his fifth-year option in 2023 and was likely seeking well over $10 million a year for a potential extension beyond that. The Detroit Free Press is reporting that contract negotiations never progressed with Hockenson, and Holmes did admit that money was one of many factors that went into this decision.

“There’s a lot of variables and factors that go into these decisions,” Holmes said. “I’m not gonna say that was not one of them that was looked at, but that was one of many that was looked at, but it wasn’t solely focused on that at all.”

Another criticism Holmes has faced is dealing within the division. This is now the second time in the past seven months that they have made a significant trade with Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, with the first being the blockbuster draft day trade that saw the Lions move from 32 to 12 to draft Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams.

Holmes insisted that he will proceed without any reluctance to trade in the division, and he’s prepared to face any extra scrutiny he gets if and when Hockenson makes plays against Detroit in the future.

“I think we both have the mindset of the whole trading within the division is, I think in our mind, it’s a little archaic way of thinking,” Holmes said. “When we make these kind of decisions, I’m totally at peace

“Like I said, T.J.’s a good football player. The next time we play him, he’ll still be a good football player. And so he’ll make a play, or make some plays, and score a touchdown or whatever he does, and, yeah, the camera will be in my face and I’ll look at it and I’ll wave and that’s just it. But all those things we talk about. I think we’re very similar when it comes to that and he understands that, yeah, he got a good football player but we didn’t give him away for free, either. So it works both ways.”

The quote from Holmes’ media session that will undoubtedly draw the most attention and criticism is his insistence that the team’s 1-6 start did not play into his decision.

“This move is not reflective of our record,” Holmes said. “If our record was reversed and it made sense for us, then we would have still done it. So it wasn’t anything of that nature. It made sense for us and we just moved forward with it.”

If we’re being completely honest, this is a bit of a nonsense statement and clearly runs contrary to him noting that their status as a rebuilding team played into their decision to make this move. It’s certainly possible that a winning Lions team would’ve entertained trading Hockenson after the season if they didn’t view him as a big part of their future plans. Trading him as a first-place team in the division is nonsense talk, unless they were offered a king’s ransom

Instead, this seems like a poor attempt at sending a message publicly that they will still try to win this year—out of respect for the players still in the building.

Lastly, Holmes shot down the idea that Hockenson wanted out.

“We’ve had discussions with his reps, but his team never said they wanted him to get out of here,” Holmes said. “I know that T.J. expressed to me he liked it here. We had a great talk over the summer about a lot of different things, and he expressed he liked it here. We’ve always had a good relationship, so it wasn’t anything like that.”