Palm Beach, Fla. — T.J. Hockenson is going to be around Detroit through at least the 2023 season, and based on the Lions’ organizational philosophy that emerged this offseason, likely a few more years after that.
On Tuesday, Lions general manager Brad Holmes confirmed he intends to pick up the fifth-year option on Hockenson’s rookie contract. Because the tight end made one Pro Bowl team his first three seasons, the one-year, fully guaranteed option would cost the Lions $9.4 million next year. The team has until May 2 to formally announce the decision.
In the meantime, the Lions will continue to evaluate the possibility of a long-term deal. The Lions also intend to explore extending cornerback Amani Oruwariye, who is entering the final year of his contract.
Retaining Hockenson and Oruwariye would correlate with the Lions’ approach to their roster this offseason, which centered around re-signing many of their own top performers to multi-year contracts, including Tracy Walker, Charles Harris, Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond.
“Hockenson, obviously, he’s a big part of what we did last year,” Holmes said. “It was unfortunate when he became unavailable for us (due to injury), but he’s another (player) that we’ll continue to lean on this year.
“And Amani, just another example of a guy that had his best season last year, so it just correlates back to that narrative of signing back our own guys. Amani, with the ball production he had and just being a good teammate, he really developed as a leader. He’s going to be another one — he’s still a young guy that, as is often said, still has meat left on the bone. There’s still upside in him. Those guys will be important discussions that we have to have for the future, but those guys are productive players for us and we’re excited about them this year.”
Oruwariye finished last season among the NFL’s leaders with six interceptions, while Hockenson was pacing the Lions with 61 receptions at the time he suffered a season-ending finger injury.
Overall, some have questioned Holmes’ free-agent strategy this offseason, which, as noted, focused on retaining players more than bringing in big-name, new additions. He understands the criticism after placing an emphasis on continuity when the team only managed to win three games during his first season as the GM, but he insisted it’s all part of the larger vision.
“It’s totally fair,” Holmes said about the criticism. “I’ve said it all along, we had a plan, and we stuck to it. You can call it we chose to kind of take a little bit of a hard road last year. I talked to you guys at the end of the season about it, (how) we kind of held back from adding all these veteran free agents to maybe help us get another win or so, and we kind of took the time to develop. Well, I do think that plan started to crystalize as the season progressed, and I think it ended on a good note.
“I totally understand, especially from our fans’ perspective, that you say, ‘Look man, three-win team, why are you bringing back the same players?’ But as much work as we put into the production that those players had in our system, and then having the continuity with our coaching staff coming back as well, there is a lot of optimism for that. And it’s still being aggressive. It’s just that it’s not always saying you’re not being aggressive if you’re not going the external route.”