T.J. Hockenson knows that there are other tight ends around the league who are getting paid. He certainly knows that David Njoku—a player who has not reached anywhere near the statistical success that Hockenson has—just cashed in for a four-year deal worth $17 million guaranteed and averaging nearly $13.7 million per year.
But the Detroit Lions tight end, who is nearing the end of his rookie contract, doesn’t view cashing in as a priority in his life right now.
“I mean, that’s a lot of money. That’s life-changing. I mean, I’m already in a situation where my life has changed, so really what I want to do is win,” Hockenson said on Tuesday. “That’s really all I care about. Money is one thing, but when it hits the bank account doesn’t really matter to me. I just want to make this place a winning program, and kind of build that. The money will fall where it may, and the contract will fall where it may. I just want to win. That’s really my whole goal with everything is winning. All that other stuff won’t affect me.”
Of course, that’s the company line for any NFL player on his way to a big payday. Focus on the play on the field, and the money will eventually come. Have the agents worry about that mess.
But Hockenson insisted that he wants to stay in Detroit, and he wants to be a part of this franchise’s eventual turnaround.
“I want to win. That’s the biggest thing,” Hockenson continued. “I want to win here, a lot. I do love Michigan. I do love Detroit. I’ve been around here for my whole career and just being able to be here and be around these fans and around the community that they are, they really build around us, good and bad. But the biggest thing is, I’ve spent the last three years going through the grind and doing it, and it’s great. You have to have that. But on the same hand, just winning is in the back of my mind and I want to do that here so bad. I really do.”
Another draw to staying in Detroit in Hockenson is the coaching staff. Not only is head coach Dan Campbell a former tight end, but his new offensive coordinator, Ben Johnson, was promoted from tight ends coach and has a special relationship with him.
“I have a really good relationship with these guys, I have really good relationships with all the guys that I’ve played with in the past,” Hockenson said. “That’s just a big thing for me, is to be around guys that I thoroughly respect and I thoroughly enjoy. Coach Campbell and Ben, guys like that, the respect and the care that they have for this program is really high, and I’m in the same boat. That doesn’t change from the player. Guys like that you always want to be around, no matter what. So that’s something that will always be in the back of my head.”
The focus for Hockenson is on the field and how he can get better. Just last week, Campbell noted that he believes Hockenson can—and will—improve as a run blocker. Hockenson said that remains an emphasis of his game.
“I’ve always said I’m a three-down tight end,” Hockenson said. “I want to be in on first, second, and third down. Just being able to have that as an offense and as a tight end is something that I’ve always focused on, just being able to block and throw your body at people. That’s all you can really ask for, is a guy that can go in and do his job whenever his number’s called, whether that’s run blocking, pass blocking, or running routes. That’s always something that’s in the back of my head and always something I’m working on.”
It remains to be seen where negotiations stand on extending Hockenson. This offseason general manager Brad Holmes noted that internal discussions have begun on keeping Hockenson around, and he also made the decision to exercise the tight end’s fifth-year option, extending his contract through the 2023 season.
But, for now, it appears those thoughts are on the back burner, both on the Lions’ and Hockenson’s end.