Justin Jefferson will be expected to push the wide receiver market past $30MM per year. His Vikings teammate looks to be interested in elevating a stagnant tight end market.
T.J. Hockenson has missed time due to multiple issues during Vikings training camp, but he is also going into a contract year with a team that traded for him at the 2022 deadline. The former top-10 pick wants to reset the tight end market, according to The Athletic’s Dianna Russini (on Twitter).
A Hockenson extension has been on Minnesota’s radar for a bit, team and player are not close on terms. Considering Hockenson’s ask, that should be expected. But the Vikings want to extend Hockenson, Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com notes. The former Lions draftee is going into his fifth-year option season, being set to count $9.24MM on the Vikings’ cap sheet.
Although Hockenson is certainly not considered the game’s top tight end, the market has resided in a strange place due in part to the player who is. Travis Kelce probably could have driven the TE market close to $20MM per year, but he signed a Chiefs-friendly extension during the 2020 offseason. Kelce is tied to a four-year, $57.25MM contract. While the future Hall of Famer addressed the topic this offseason, it does not sound like he will push for a new deal. The top two TE AAVs belong to Darren Waller ($17MM) and George Kittle ($15MM).
Minnesota traded a 2023 second-round pick and a 2024 third-rounder for Hockenson, taking back 2023 and 2024 fourths (the second becoming a fourth due to the Vikings not winning a 2022 playoff game) in the intra-NFC North swap. Hockenson is coming off his best season — an 86-catch, 914-yard, six-touchdown offering split with the two NFC North teams — but emerged as the Vikings’ No. 2 option behind Jefferson down the stretch. A Jefferson extension is on the Vikes’ radar — though, perhaps not this year — and that deal will most definitely top the receiver market. It would be interesting for the Vikings to authorize two market-topping deals at the pass-catching posts.
Then again, the below-market deals Kelce and, going farther back, Rob Gronkowski signed have led to this position falling well behind wideouts. In the not-too-distant future, a tight end will break the $20MM-AAV barrier. Kittle, Kelce, Mark Andrews and Dallas Goedert are all signed through at least 2025, putting Hockenson as the current candidate to raise the ceiling.
Hockenson missed weeks of camp with an ear infection he said affected his equilibrium, Seifert adds, and is now sidelined after complaining of back stiffness. The Iowa product certainly could be labeled a hold-in, though he denied his missed practices are contract-related. Kevin O’Connell echoed that, indicating Hockenson has not brought up the contract matter to him.
“No, that’s not my focus,” Hockenson said of his contract, via Seifert. “My focus is to be out here with these guys on Sept.  and be ready for September and be ready for game days on Sunday.”
If no extension commences this year, the Vikings would have the option of franchise-tagging Hockenson in 2024. Although no tight ends received the tag in March, three did in 2022. David Njoku signed an extension, while Dalton Schultz and Mike Gesicki played out their contracts and hit free agency (en route to modest deals).