Their luck had to run out eventually.
The Minnesota Vikings finished the 2022 season with a 13-4 record, but the scoreboard didn’t tell the whole story. Ranked 27th in team DVOA (yes, you read that correctly) with a negative points differential, the Vikings were viewed by many as false kings of the NFC. An absurd 11-0 in one-score games, the Vikings were playing with fire all season, needing feats like a record-setting comeback against the Indianapolis Colts or an absurd goal-line sneak/kneel fumble by the Buffalo Bills to eke out victories.
oh my god, it finally happened https://t.co/hPPmJ3Tb3s— Pride of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) January 16, 2023
The New York Giants dealt the Vikings a death blow, knocking the fraudsters out of the playoffs and setting up an NFC East showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles. Yet Lions fans cared about the outcome of this game for more reasons than just divisional bitterness. With the loss and elimination, the Vikings' draft position became set. This directly impacts the Lions thanks to the T.J. Hockenson trade who, fittingly, caught the final ball of the Vikings’ season, a three-yard catch on fourth-and-8.
As a recap, the Lions got a 2023 second-round pick and a 2024 third-round pick from the Vikings in exchange for Hockenson, a 2023 fourth-round pick, and a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick. The first caveat of the Vikings’ elimination is the setting of their draft position. The 2023 second-rounder will be the 55th overall selection, giving the Lions a bevy of early picks. The second consideration is the conditional draft selection, which hinged on a Vikings playoff win. With their loss, the Lions will send a fourth to Minnesota. Had the Vikings continued their
miraculous winning ways, the Lions would have given up a fifth-rounder instead.
Picks aside, there’s also the player aspect of the deal. Hockenson put together a Pro Bowl season for the Vikings, finishing the year with a career-best 914 yards on 86 receptions. However, his yards per game and yards per reception actually decreased from Detroit to Minnesota, while his receptions per game nearly doubled after the move. Kirk Cousins loved peppering him with short passes—and ironically, it cost the Vikings their season.
Hockenson did deserve the Pro Bowl nod, but the competition in the NFC was slim. George Kittle earned the top NFC spot (as well as the second-team All-Pro nod) ahead of Hockenson. However, nobody really challenged Hockenson for the remaining NFC opening. Neither Dallas Goedert nor Kyle Pitts stayed healthy, while Tyler Higbee and Dalton Schultz were more good than great. The idea of the Lions trading away a Pro Bowler sounds bad, but the reality isn’t that grim.
On the Detroit side of the trade, the Lions never found a replacement for Hockenson. Instead, the Lions found replacements. The Lions opted for a tight end committee of Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra, and James Mitchell. It wasn’t the prettiest of tight end groups, but the Lions made it work. The trio combined for nine touchdown catches, and while the yardage total was modest (389 yards, still behind Hockenson’s 395 yards as a Lion this year), the Lions didn’t need it to be anything more than that.
Complementary football was the name of the game. With a talented receiving corps, the Lions instead relied on their tight ends in red zone looks, blocking, and the occasional sneaking out into coverage. The Lions’ victory over the New York Jets was almost entirely to Brock Wright hustling for a touchdown.
Back in November when the trade went down, a majority of Pride of Detroit readers gave the trade a “B” grade. Funnily enough, it was originally seen as Detroit throwing in the towel on the season. Yet despite trading away what was once a focal point of the offense, the Lions actually went 8-2 without him.
The future draft picks are still to come, but until then, we can still try to pick a trade winner right now.
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Which team won the T.J. Hockenson trade?
My answer: I think both teams won the trade, but I think the Lions will emerge victorious in the long run.
In the short term, the trade was a wash. The Lions got assets for a player they weren’t really using and likely didn’t want to extend. The Vikings got a reliable target for Cousins for their playoff push. That’s a win-win.
That being said, the Vikings’ playoff run came up short, and that’s where the problems arise. The Vikings were seemingly all-in on the playoffs this year, and all it amounted to is a Wild Card loss and salary cap hell:
The #Vikings should be about $22M over the salary cap after future signings. We have them ranked 31st in draft capital using mine and @PFF_Brad chart.— Jason_OTC (@Jason_OTC) January 16, 2023
Star receiver Justin Jefferson will want a new contract sooner than later, and with cap room already in a bad spot, the Vikings may have to make drastic moves. The likes of Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, Eric Kendricks, and Harrison Smith could all be cap casualties, whether via trade or release. The elephant in the room is Kirk Cousins’ massive contract. He is a good enough starter, but is he worth the sizable salary cap hit? And if not, who takes his contract and where does Minnesota go next? The draft is a cheap way to bolster a team, but they sacrificed some of their valuable draft capital in the Hockenson deal.
Hockenson, meanwhile, has one more season under contract with the Vikings. He will count for almost $9.4 million against the Vikings’ salary cap. There are worse tight end contracts out there—the New England Patriots are paying Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith almost $33 million next season—but it’s a tough contract for a cash-strapped Vikings to manage. They either extend Hockenson or let him walk after 2023, neither of which seems like a positive outcome for Minnesota.
The Lions, meanwhile, coasted with their ragtag group of tight ends. They will likely address the position in some way this offseason, but they no longer have to deal with Hockenson’s financial situation. The Lions got draft picks, and with general manager Brad Holmes’ track record so far, that’s exciting.
Which team won the T.J. Hockenson trade?
This poll is closed