Detroit Lions’ T.J. Hockenson thinking winning, not contract; ‘I want to do that here so bad’

Detroit Free Press

T.J. Hockenson soon will be one of the highest-paid tight ends in the NFL, if not tops at the position. But the Detroit Lions star said he is most concerned with winning during his new deal, and he sounds convinced he can do it in Detroit.

“I want to do that here so bad,” Hockenson said Monday on Day 1 of Lions minicamp. “That’s the whole mentality that I want and the whole mentality that these guys want in the building is just to win. We don’t care about much else, just as long as our score’s above theirs. And I want that here.”

The Lions exercised the fifth-year option on Hockenson’s rookie contract earlier this spring, ensuring he will stay in Detroit through at least the 2023 season.

General manager Brad Holmes said the organization is interested in signing Hockenson to a long-term extension, and many around the NFL expect that to happen this summer.

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Tight end money has shot up in recent years, with Mark Andrews, Dallas Goedert and David Njoku joining Travis Kelce and George Kittle as tight ends making more than $13 million annually. Njoku signed a four-year, $54.75 million pact earlier this month that could serve as the jumping off point for Hockenson’s next contract, though two tight ends — the Miami Dolphins’ Mike Gesicki and the Dallas Cowboys’ Dalton Schultz — remain on the franchise tag.

Hockenson said he is leaving most of the negotiating to his agent, though friends across the league have weighed in on how much money he should make.

“I’m not very good with the business side of things,” Hockenson said. “Guys tell me what I should make, what I shouldn’t make and I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t really care.’ It’s one of those things, I’m going to play between the white lines and whatever happens, happens.”

Between the lines, Hockenson has been one of the Lions’ most effective players since entering the NFL as the No. 8 overall pick in the 2019 draft.

Hockenson followed a modest 32-catch rookie season with career-highs of 67 catches, 723 yards and eight touchdowns in 2020.

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He seemed poised for an even bigger year last fall, but his production waned after a fast start and he finished the year on injured reserve after opting to undergo thumb surgery in December.

Hockenson said surgery was “one of those things where I had to have it and it sucked to have to do that,” and the Lions have taken things appropriately slow in his return this spring.

“Talking with the Lions and talking with everybody, we’re going to be smart right now and then we ultimately need me in the fall so that’s kind of our plan is just to be able to go through 17 games and get it,” Hockenson said. “This year I’m looking forward to being able to go through every game and be able to really put a stepping stone and build this place where we need to.”

While Hockenson entered last season as the clear focal point of the Lions’ offense, that will not be the case this fall.

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Amon-Ra St. Brown emerged as a top slot receiver option in Hockenson’s absence last year and the Lions added DJ Chark and Jameson Williams in free agency and the draft.

Having more offensive weapons could help Hockenson flourish in some ways. He should see fewer double-teams than last season. And Lions coach Dan Campbell said Hockenson still is far from reaching his ceiling as a player.

“I look at it as what are we asking him to do, and can he win?” Campbell said. “When we ask him to win, can he win? Because I think sometimes, when you start thinking about Kelce and (Darren) Waller and there’s a lot of — Kyle Pitts. For a long time, some of those guys are the showcase guy. I think what we want is we want T.J. to just go out and win and do what he does (on) third down, critical (situations), when you need it, when your time’s called because we’ve got St. Brown, we’ve got Chark. Williams will come along. We got (Josh) Reynolds, we got (D’Andre) Swift. So, it’s, man, he’s a piece of the puzzle and when his number’s called, we know he’s going to win, and that’s a comforting feeling.”

Whether his new deal comes this summer or not, if Hockenson keeps giving the Lions that comforting feeling he will be handsomely rewarded.

“I kind of told my agent, you do your thing and I’ll do my thing,” Hockenson said. “That’s kind of where it’s at. I don’t really know much, I don’t really care to know much it’s just I’m here every day playing with my teammates. When that time comes to sign a piece of paper, I’ll do that.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

Summer work

Key Lions dates this offseason

Today-Thursday: Minicamp continues.

June 13-16: Organized team activities.

July 26: Training camp opens.

Aug. 12: Exhibition opener vs. Falcons.

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