The Vikings lost starting tight end Irv Smith Jr. to a high-ankle sprain in Sunday’s win over the Cardinals and on Tuesday, the team placed him on injured reserve. Now they have acquired his replacement from their division rival. Minnesota lands former Pro Bowler T.J. Hockenson from the Lions as part of a swap of draft picks, a deal confirmed by CBS Sports HQ NFL insider Josina Anderson.
Hockenson, 25, was drafted No. 8 overall by Detroit just three years ago, and he’s widely considered one of the top young players at his position. Signed through 2023 thanks to a fifth-year option that’ll pay him $9.4 million next year, the former Iowa standout joins his NFC North rivals, along with a 2023 fourth-round pick and 2024 conditional fourth-rounder, in exchange for a 2023 second-rounder and 2024 third-rounder.
Hockenson is on pace to finish with career numbers this year, leading all tight ends with 15.2 yards per catch. In seven games this year, he’s helped headline the Lions’ passing game with 26 catches for 395 yards and three touchdowns. He topped 500 receiving yards in each of the previous two seasons despite missing five games due to injury in 2021, logging a personal-best 67 catches for 723 yards and six touchdowns during his 2020 Pro Bowl campaign.
He figures to instantly slot in as the Vikings’ No. 1 tight end, and remain in that role even after Smith returns from his own injury. Minnesota has averaged the least amount of yards per catch at tight end up to this point in the season.
Hockenson’s surprise arrival marks the second intra-division trade between the Lions and Vikings this year. New Minnesota general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah notably moved back in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft in a swap with Detroit, which jumped up to select wide receiver Jameson Williams.
Even if Smith Jr. were healthy, they could’ve used help at tight end. Hockenson, meanwhile, is better than most at his position when healthy. And all the Vikings gave up to get him — not only for 2022, but through at least 2023 on a reasonable deal — was the equivalent of a second-rounder. That, friends, is proof that Adofo-Mensah knows how to make a trade. Hockenson should be an instant safety valve for Kirk Cousins, helping Minnesota further its run in the NFC.
Detroit absolutely deserved to be dealing ahead of the deadline, but why on Earth was their big play to sell off one of their few proven building blocks? Hockenson may command a lucrative salary down the line, and he’s had his own injury history, but even the draft picks they’re getting are far from guaranteed to replace the former No. 8 overall pick’s production. Maybe if, somehow, they turn those picks into a true franchise QB, all will be forgiven.