EAGAN, Minn. — T.J. Hockenson was back on the Minnesota Vikings‘ practice field Thursday, having seemingly put a summer’s worth of injuries and illness behind him. Thursday’s sudden infusion into his bank account surely helped the healing process.
Hockenson signed a four-year contract extension that will pay him at least $66 million and up to $68.5 million, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, in a deal that resets the tight end market. A source told Schefter that the average annual value of the deal is $17.125 million and that Hockenson will make $42.5 million guaranteed — both the highest for a tight end in NFL history.
“I’m excited to actually play football,” Hockenson said, “and go out there and have to not worry about anything else and move forward from everything and go win some games. That’s really what we’re here for.”
The deal ends an unusual summer during which Hockenson sat out almost all of the Vikings’ contact drills, participating only in early-practice stretching and individual periods. He first attributed those limitations to an ear infection that affected his equilibrium. When that condition cleared up, Hockenson reported lower back stiffness to Vikings medical officials.
Hockenson spoke multiple times with reporters over that period but was vague about whether he was protecting himself or otherwise “holding in” while in the final year of his original rookie contract. The two-time Pro Bowler said Thursday that he is “feeling better” and emphasized that his goal was always to be ready for the Vikings’ regular-season opener Sept. 10 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In expressing his relief that a deal was in place, Vikings general manager Kwesi-Adofo-Mensah acknowledged the complexity of the situation but said he did not think there was “ever any sense of a quid pro quo or anything like that.”
“I know there is a business aspect to things,” Adofo-Mensah said. “Ultimately, I can’t tell you anything for certain. But I didn’t view it as that at all. I felt like there was a process that needed to play out and ultimately it ended up here, and we’re excited about that.”
Hockenson quickly became one of quarterback Kirk Cousins‘ top targets last season after a midseason trade from the Detroit Lions, hauling in 60 receptions for 519 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games, and then another 10 receptions for 129 yards in a wild-card playoff game against the New York Giants.
Hockenson finished second among NFL tight ends last season with 86 receptions for 914 yards in 17 combined games with Minnesota and Detroit.
“Our hopes were that we were acquiring a player that would become a major part of our offense moving forward,” Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said. “We saw the immediate impact over those 10 games — 11 games. We’ve been able to build on T.J.’s role here, and really have a great process in the offseason of what it’s really going to look like in our offensive system for a major player like T.J. to be a part of it.”
The Vikings sent a 2023 second-round draft pick and a 2024 third-round draft pick to the Lions for Hockenson and two draft picks (a fourth-round draft pick in 2023 and a conditional draft pick in 2024).
With Hockenson soon to be locked up for the long term, the Vikings have one more contract situation to resolve with a pending extension for superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who still has two years left on his rookie deal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.