Vikings & Star Pass-Catcher ‘Far Apart’ in Contract Talks, Insider Says

Kirk Cousins and Kevin O'Connell

Getty Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell and quarterback Kirk Cousins.

The Minnesota Vikings and T.J. Hockenson remain divided despite months of negotiations to secure the Pro Bowl tight end to a long-term contract.

The Athletic’s senior insider Dianna Russini reported on Wednesday, August 24, 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 has not participated in team activities in training camp due to an ear infection affecting his equilibrium, he told local reporters.

Two weeks have passed since then and Kevin O’Connell revealed that Hockenson had some lower-back stiffness flare up on Wednesday — the same day as Russini’s report.

O’Connell struck down any notion that Hockenson is staging a contractual “hold-in” at camp.

“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 in an August 23 media conference. “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].”

Hockenson, entering the final year of his rookie contract, is slated to make $9.3 million guaranteed this season, setting his career earnings over $20 million, per Over The Cap.

What’s Holding the Vikings Back From Long-Term Deal for Hockenson?

T.J. Hockenson

GettyT.J. Hockenson

Let’s first explain how we got here.

Minnesota acquired Hockenson at the trade deadline last season, sending the Detroit Lions a 2023 second-round pick and a 2024 third-rounder in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round pick and a 2024 conditional fourth-round pick.

He jelled immediately into the starting offense, snagging nine catches for 70 yards with just four days of preparation before his first game in purple and gold.

Over the final nine weeks of the 2022 season, Hockenson was targeted more than all but six pass catchers in the NFL and was second in targets among tight ends, only trailing Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce.

Hockenson’s involvement in the offense and the Vikings expressing a clear interest in extending the former No. 8 overall pick made the prospects of him inking a deal this offseason likely.

However, after months of negotiations, the two sides are still divided.

The new Vikings regime, embracing a “competitive rebuild,” wants as much flexibility as possible to navigate the franchise out of the Mike Zimmer era. They’ve yet to offer a multiyear deal to a player at a premium position — meaning Hockenson could be in the same situation as Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter, whose contracts expire after this season.

Vikings Have Options Beyond a Lucrative, Long-Term Deal

Pro Football Focus (PFF) analyst 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.

While Hockenson’s role as a pass-catcher was highlighted last season, his shortcomings as a run-blocker may be what keeps him from resetting the tight-end market. He posted a 57.3 PFF run-blocking grade last season and has surpassed 70.0 just once in his career.

The Vikings went out and signed former Baltimore Ravens tight end Josh Oliver, one of the premier run-blocking tight ends in the league, to a three-year, $21 million deal to complement Hockenson and the running game.

Minnesota ranks ninth in spending at tight end entering the 2023 season and could catapult itself to the top of tight end spending if Hockenson sees his new deal.

But if a long-term deal cannot be reached, Hockenson could either be traded or franchise-tagged for the 2024 season. Over The Cap has projected the franchise tag for tight ends to be worth $13.6 million in 2024.

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