Detroit Lions’ T.J. Hockenson not bothered by trade rumors, wants bigger role in Detroit

Detroit Free Press

T.J. Hockenson deleted all social media apps from his phone four weeks ago after the Detroit Lions48-45 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Hockenson had a breakout eight-catch, 179-yard performance in that game, accounting for more than half his receiving yards this season, and when his inbox filled with people singing his praises after a Lions loss, the fourth-year tight end figured it was time to take a break from social media.

So Hockenson had not seen any speculation he could be dealt before next week’s NFL trade deadline until an old high school friend texted him a story this week.

When Hockenson showed up at the Lions’ Allen Park practice facility Thursday morning, he made light of the situation with his tight end teammates.

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“It’s just like, ‘Hey’d you hear I’m getting traded?'” Hockenson told the Free Press on Thursday. “It’s more me laughing about it than anything. I mean, if that — like I said, I love everybody in this locker room, I love being here in Detroit. I mean, but more importantly and most importantly I love playing football and so I’m going to have the opportunity to do that and that’s really what my whole role in this entire league is to do is to play football. So as long as I have that opportunity I’m good.”

Just 25 years old, Hockenson still has plenty of opportunity to play football, and in the coming months, he most likely will do that in Detroit. The Lions had not fielded any calls on Hockenson’s availability as of Friday, though interest in the tight end (and others) did not heat up until deadline day last year.

Hockenson said his fellow tight ends laughed at his quip Thursday “cause they know nothing is (happening),” and he insisted the trade rumors are “not (coming from) the building because I know that’s not how it is.”

Still, Hockenson has been around the NFL long enough to know his time with the Lions is not guaranteed, and if they do decide to enter sell mode before Tuesday’s deadline, he is one of the most appealing trade candidates on the team.

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Hockenson is signed through 2023 on a reasonable deal that pays him $536,000 for the rest of this season and $9.39 million next year. He’s a proven weapon at tight end who could have a bigger, more impactful role in a different offense. He said last month the team has yet to open negotiations on a new contract (and said Thursday nothing has changed since that update he gave the Free Press).

And the Lions, 1-5 and owners of the worst record in the NFL, are going nowhere fast and could benefit from adding draft capital for their rebuild.

“Listen, I’m not stupid, I know what I can bring to another team and I know here that they could, if they want something, if they want to do things for the future then I’m not stupid in that sense,” Hockenson said. “It is a business and whatever they have to do upstairs they’re going to do. And that doesn’t — there’s no hard feelings about it. There’s no, ‘Hey, I don’t like him personally’ or anything about that. That’s just how it is. So I’m not dumb or naïve in that fact.”

The No. 8 pick of the 2019 draft, Hockenson has had a productive three-plus seasons in Detroit, though his role in the passing game has diminished this fall.

Hockenson caught 32 passes for 367 yards as a rookie and nearly doubled those totals (67 catches, 723 yards) while making the Pro Bowl in 2020. He was on track for an even better season last year, catching 61 passes for 583 yards in 12 games, before tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb in December.

This year, Hockenson has not topped four catches or 50 yards in a game other than against the Seahawks, and he’s seen his targets decline even as the Lions have battled injuries on offense.

“I know what I can do at this position and I know what I’ve done at this position and I’ve done it at a really high level and if I’m — and I’m always going to do that,” Hockenson said. “So when my number’s called and I am given that opportunity I’m going to take the most of it. I feel like, I got my number called five times last week and I made the most out of four opportunities. One was — so it’s like I want that to be more, and I’ve expressed that. But that hasn’t been the case, so that’s not really anything that I can do or anything in my control, so that’s where — that’s where I look at it as a game of, ‘Hey, I’m putting good things on tape,’ and that’s all I want to do is put good things on tape and whatever happens, happens.”

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Asked if he wants to stay with the Lions or thinks he would have more opportunity elsewhere, Hockenson said, “That’s for another team to decide, I guess, in that sense. I mean, yeah, I just want to contribute. I want to do what I can to help teams win.”

Hockenson said he has not talked with Lions coach Dan Campbell or general manager Brad Holmes about the trade rumors he called “an amusement thing to me.”

He said he would “love” to have a bigger role in Detroit.

“I would love to make an impact here,” he said. “I was feeling real good last week. I felt like I could do a lot and it just didn’t happen. I mean, that’s the ebbs and flows of the league, that’s what happens.”

And ultimately he said he expects to remain put at next week’s deadline.

“I mean, if it comes to fruition, it comes to fruition, but that’s out of my control again,” Hockenson said. “That’s something that I’ve always been weary of and kind of … control exactly what I can control, and whatever I can’t, that’s fine. I’m going to do what I can.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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