$20 Million Vikings Star Suffers New Injury Amid Contract Dispute

Kevin O'Connell, Vikings

Getty Head coach Kevin O'Connell of the Minnesota Vikings.

Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson has maintained that an ear infection affecting his equilibrium is the only thing keeping him from participating in team drills at training camp this summer.

However, after two weeks of recovering from the ear infection, Hockenson has a new injury that has kept him sidelined on Wednesday, August 23.

Head coach Kevin O’Connell told local media that Hockenson is dealing with lower back stiffness that kept him out of the first of two joint practices with the Arizona Cardinals.

In the final year of his rookie contract, Hockenson was asked directly by SKOR North’s Judd Zulgad earlier this week if the lengthy recovery from the ear infection is in part about pressuring the Vikings to get a deal done with his agent.

Hockenson said his contractual situation with the Vikings “is not my focus,” a message O’Connell said outright in his Wednesday media conference.

“My dialogue with T.J. in regards to his training camp, or whatever that’s looked like, has really been about the ear infection first,” O’Connell said, “and working through that, and some of his [rehab] work kind of popped up to maybe cause some lower back stiffness… He has not indicated to me one time that it is about that [contract status]. And look, we would love to have him in every drill. … But we’ve got to have a process where we get these guys healthy, feeling really good to go compete as we head toward the season.

“But I’ll say this: T.J. has been phenomenal in the meeting room, really leading that tight end room, and the side work he’s done. The individual work, the work staying in shape, his lifts and conditioning. I don’t have any reservations about him being ready to roll for [the regular season].”

Despite O’Connell’s comments, Hockenson’s camp is ambitious in its negotiations for his next contract to make him one of the highest-paid tight ends in league history.

Many pundits have suggested Hockenson’s string of minor injuries signals a “hold-in” scenario as the Vikings work out a new contract with the former eighth-overall pick.

 T.J. Hockenson Wants to Reset TE Market: Report

The Athletic’s senior insider Dianna Russini reported on Wednesday that Hockenson’s camp and the Vikings are far apart in negotiations as Hockenson looks to reset the tight-end market with a historic deal.

The Vikings and tight end T.J. Hockenson have been working on an extension, but both sides are far apart, per league sources,” Russini said. “Hockenson wants to reset the market with a historic contract extension for tight ends.”

Hockenson, on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract, is slated to make $9.3 million guaranteed this season, setting his career earnings over $20 million.

Pro Football Focus’ Brad Spielberger projected Hockenson to strike a four-year, $64 million deal worth $16 million per year, an average annual value that would rank second at the tight end position, per Over the Cap.

However, the hang-up in contract talks may be over the amount of guarantees.

Vikings May Be Cautious With Guarantees in Future Contracts, Analyst Says

Pioneer Press columnist Charley Walters revealed that a potential sticking point in contract talks with Hockenson is the amount of guaranteed money, which Minnesota has been tepid to offer the past two years.

“The holdup in Hockenson negotiations is believed to be not the overall amount of the contract, but the amount of guaranteed money,” Walters wrote on August 19. “The Vikings the past two years have ranked in the bottom half-dozen in the NFL in actual cash payroll. It might be more than coincidental that two years ago owners Mark and Zygi Wilf paid more than $400 million for Major League Soccer’s Orlando City team.

“Some smart people wonder whether that purchase has had an effect on how much cash they can spend going forward on the Vikings,” Walters added.

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