Vikings trade for Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson on NFL deadline day

The Vikings made a significant deal to upgrade their offense on NFL trade deadline day, acquiring tight end T.J. Hockenson in a deal with the Lions on Tuesday.

Hockenson, a 2020 Pro Bowler who’s caught 26 passes for 395 yards and three touchdowns this season, should help the Vikings upgrade a position of need in their offense, with Irv Smith heading to injured reserve because of a high ankle sprain.

Adding another pass-catcher seemed like a priority for the Vikings even before Smith was hurt on Sunday, and Hockenson could help them solidify the tight end position in both 2022 and 2023.

Smith returned from thumb surgery in time for the start of the regular season, but has just 22 catches for 168 yards this season. Johnny Mundt, who’d largely been a blocking tight end during his five years with the Rams, has already tripled his single-season high in catches (with 12 this year) and caught his first regular-season touchdown pass against the Cardinals on Sunday. But those 12 receptions have gone for just 76 yards, and Kirk Cousins’ average throw to a tight end has traveled only 3.8 air yards — the sixth-shortest distance in the league, according to Sports Info Solutions.

Hockenson, by contrast, is averaging 15.2 yards per catch this season, the highest figure in the league among tight ends with at least 20 targets this season. His 134 yards after contact lead all NFL tight ends, according to SIS.

To acquire Hockenson, the Vikings sent their 2023 second-round pick and their 2024 third-rounder to the Lions, who gave Minnesota a fourth-rounder in 2023 and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2024. The trade would be completed when Hockenson passes a physical.

Hockenson, the eighth overall pick in the 2019 draft, is making $965,000 on the final year of his rookie deal. The remaining costs of the Iowa product’s $12.435 million signing bonus would stay with the Lions.

On Instagram, Hockenson (@theehock8) wrote: “Detroit, I can’t tell you how appreciative I am to this city and fan base for accepting me and my family from the start. All the teammates and coaches that I’ve been w/ here have helped me every step of the way.

“MINNESOTA!!! Man I’m so excited! I can’t wait to be a part of this organization. Been a Midwest kid since Day 1 and can’t wait to be back.”

Detroit had exercised Hockenson’s option for the 2023 season; he is scheduled to make $9.392 million with the Vikings in 2023. Given the fact Smith will be a free agent after the season and Mundt is also signed for 2023, Hockenson’s deal could mean Smith’s time in Minnesota will end after this season.

The Hockenson deal is the second major trade Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has completed with the Lions in his first year with the team. Adofo-Mensah traded the 12th overall pick to Detroit in the first round of the draft so the Lions could move up to select Alabama receiver Jameson Williams.

The Vikings got the 32nd, 34th and 66th picks back in the deal, selecting Georgia safety Lewis Cine with the final pick of the first round. They sent the 34th pick to the Packers in a deal motivated by Green Bay’s desire to move up for North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson, and the Vikings selected Oklahoma linebacker Brian Asamoah 66th overall.

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