NFL Trade Grades: Lions keep T.J. Hockenson in NFC North with trade to Vikings

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In an unexpected move, the Detroit Lions trade away tight end T.J. Hockenson within their division to NFC North foe, the Minnesota Vikings.

All week, NFL analysts have been wondering: are the 6-1 Minnesota Vikings really that good?

Turns out the Vikings just got even better, thanks to a last-minute trade deadline move that ships Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson out of Michigan and into Minnesota.

The Vikings are giving up a second-round pick in 2022 and a third-round pick in 2024 to land Hockenson. Meanwhile, the Lions send away Hockenson, a 2023 fourth-round pick and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2024.

Schefter swiftly explained some of the rationale behind the surprise trade: Vikings tight end Irv Smith was just injured and is set to miss multiple weeks.

Grading last-minute T.J. Hockenson trade from Lions that could keep Vikings win streak alive

Remarkably, the Vikings haven’t lost a game since Week 2 when they were promptly defeated by the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles.

Having Hockenson within their weaponry only makes the Vikings offense more effective. Through seven games, Smith has been targeted consistently, but he had yet to break 50 receiving yards in any game this season. Racking up a meager 168 receiving yards — which is virtually a single game for Justin Jefferson — the Vikings could benefit from getting their tight end a few more opportunities.

Through the same amount of games with Detroit, Hockenson has just four more receptions (26 to 22) but a whopping 395 yards. His catch rate is slightly worse than Smith’s, but a difference at quarterback can also account for those numbers. Hockenson gets an upgrade at quarterback, and the Vikings get a significant upgrade at the tight end position.

This is a massive win for the Vikings, who are seizing their opportunity this season to dominate the NFC North and make a hard push for Super Bowl aspirations. That being said, they did have to give up some draft capital to get there, losing a second-round pick this year and a third-rounder next year to make it possible. But the Vikings were duly compensated for that trade-off, getting Hockenson and slightly lower draft picks in the following years.

As far as the Lions, the trade makes sense for them too, although they’re still on the dismal side of this trade. The team is 1-6 and has zero hope for a postseason run, so building chips for the future is what makes sense for them. Drafting is always a gamble, and it’ll be difficult to know whether or not getting rid of Hockenson was worth it until those second and third-round picks are selected. Really, all the Lions did was give away Hockenson and trade up a bit in the next two drafts. Hockenson was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and four years later, the Lions are getting a two-pick return on that investment.

What’s really the deciding factor in this trade is Hockenson’s contract. The Lions were able to offload the remaining cost of Hockenson’s $19.8 million contract. According to Spotrac, Hockenson is set to earn $9.4 million in 2023. If the Lions aren’t winning this year anyway, the least they could do is trade one of their most valuable assets to clear cap space and get draft picks in return.

But trading them to a division rival could have miserable long-term implications. Welcome to two T.J. Hockenson revenge games per year, Lions fans.

While it’s still a sensible move for the Lions, it’s also a compromised one that they may not have considered early on in the season. For that, the Lions get a B, while it’s an easy A for the Vikings.

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