Signs from the aftermath of the Vikings’ loss over the weekend pointed to an extended absence for T.J. Hockenson. That has now been confirmed, as head coach Kevin O’Connell said Tuesday the Pro Bowl tight end will require surgery to repair ACL and MCL tears.
Hockenson was forced to exit Minnesota’s game against Detroit due to the injury, and O’Connell admitted not long after that signs were pointing to a lengthy absence. After further testing, the 2022 trade acquisition is now out for the year. The news puts an end to a productive campaign, and leaves the Vikings without another key member of their offense due to a major injury.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins suffered an Achilles tear earlier in the year, something which threatened to derail the team’s season. Especially given the time missed by star wideout Justin Jefferson, Minnesota’s playoff prospects appeared to take a turn for the worse. The Vikings are now 7-8 on the year, but they face uncertainty under center and they will now be without a major weapon in their passing game as they push for an NFC wild-card berth.
Hockenson was acquired at the trade deadline last season in a deal which put an end to his hot-and-cold tenure with the Lions. The intra-divisional swap resulted in a strong showing in the second half of the season, however, as he posted a 60-519-3 statline in 10 games. That production proved his effectiveness in O’Connell’s system, and set him up for a major payday in the offseason.
The 26-year-old signed a $16.5MM-per-year extension in August, keeping him on the books through 2027 and making him the league’s second-highest paid tight end in terms of annual compensation. That pact raised expectations for Hockenson, and he delivered in 2023 despite Cousins’ missed time. The Iowa alum set new career highs in catches (95) and yards (960) in 15 games this season. As a result, his absence will deal a substantial blow to the Vikings’ offense.
O’Connell also confirmed that edge rusher D.J. Wonnum is headed to injured reserve due to a torn quad. That was the expected outcome in this situation, but it confirms his season is over, something with signficant financial implications given his status as a pending free agent. Minnesota’s defense will be shorthanded as the team approaches a pair of must-win games, while the offense will likewise be without a top contributor.
With Hockenson out of the picture, Josh Oliver will likely assume starting duties at the TE spot. A free agent addition from this past offseason, Oliver has established himself as a strong blocker in recent years, which led to a three-year, $21MM contract. The former third-rounder has made only 19 catches this season serving as a complement to Hockenson this season, though. Johnny Mundt and Nick Muse have likewise seen small workloads in the passing game to date, but that could change in the immediate future.