The Hockenson Trade - Inspired or Deluded?
Hockamania is moving to Minneapolis. The no. 8 overall pick for the Detroit Lions in the 2019 NFL draft was traded at the deadline yesterday to the Minnesota Vikings.
The Lions receive the Vikings 2023 2nd round pick in a swap for the Lions 2023 4th round pick, and the Lions also receive the Vikings 2024 3rd round pick in return for the Lions 4th round pick in 2024, which becomes the Lions 5th rounder if the Vikings win a playoff game (With the Vikings at 6-1, this appears more likely than not).
The Lions save $2m on the cap this season and his entire 5th-year option salary of $9.4m. According to Jeff Risdon of Lions Wire, Hockenson's agents had started making moves for him to be re-signed before the 5th year option came into effect, so this trade avoids any potential unpleasantness or an enhanced deal.
The reaction from the fans has varied from the glumly accepting of this as perhaps the least worst option available to the outright dismayed that the Lions would seemingly assist a division rival for their charge at the league's highest honour.
As stated in the Risdon article above, TJ averaged 4 catches for 44 yards per game in his NFL career in Detroit. At his best, he was a matchup nightmare, terrorising defenders with a speed that belies his size. However, this season he had only his 2nd game of more than 100 receiving yards, hardly game-breaking production on an individual basis from a feature weapon.
When called upon last year to be the sole weapon on offense, he found himself unable to make a dent when in double coverage.
Sold as a dual-threat TE in college whose receiving and blocking process was probably both equally excellent, his blocking if anything has regressed since his rookie season, struggling at the NFL level against the league's best edge rushers. At this point in his career, he can't be trusted to block in either the run or passing game and is a glorified WR at this moment in time.
Additionally, as a receiver historically Hock has had poor YAC ability which you would hope for from someone who has been disappointing as a blocker. Too often he would go straight to ground after catches rather than turning upfield for a few more yards. To his credit, this has improved this year, but over a small sample size and I would have looked for improvement here.
Alternatives to a trade
What could Hock's future have been?
1) Keep him, re-sign him
Anyone trying to estimate his future worth are playing a fool's game. My colleague Ant regularly points out that Charles Harris took a discount to remain in Detroit last season as an indication that not all players get "greedy" and ask for top dollar. And yet the media narrative around the league is that Hock's agents were looking for that top dollar. Who knows how much this might have been for? Suffices to say that this might have been above his 5th-year option value of $9.2m APY however...
2) Keep him, but release him after his 5th-year option
He's a damn good man to have around, a leader, at his best he is an absolute weapon, why not see out the deal and get a compensatory pick back for him? At best this is a 3rd-round selection in the early 100s, but it's more likely to be a 4th round pick. He'd be released at the end of the 2023 season, making the comp pick a 2025 selection. And the Lions are anticipated to have a healthy amount of cap space after the 2023 season, gaining compensatory picks is predicated on losing more players to free agency than you gain - what happens if the Lions are buyers in free agency - you lose Hock for no compensation at all? It's risky.
3) Keep him, trade him on the 5th-year option
The Lions 2022 season is all but dead, with or without Hock. A 1-6 start has condemned this team to look ahead to the NFL Draft already. Keeping a player for an extra season reduces the rental period for a team (in the worst case) and so his value can only fall really.
Given all of the above, I think the best options are a trade now, or re-signing him. I'd hate to lose him for nothing, I'd hate to receive even less for him. Put up, or shut up I think.
The actual deal
Honestly? I had hoped for more. I hoped for a pure 2nd round pick in 2023. Having gone to some trusted colleagues around the league, my hopes for this a few weeks ago were dashed. He's not regarded as someone who provides the value for a 2nd rounder. A high 3rd appeared to be the ceiling of the compensation offered. According to the trade value charts, this compensation nets out to about the value of a mid-3rd round pick, perhaps then slightly under the ceiling of the possible value - and to an in-division rival!
However, according to the team, there weren't any deals on the table for Hockenson last Friday - and if this was the only deal on the table, I still think it represents the best option for Detroit rather than the others above. The Detroit offense will be fine without him going forwards (Brock Wright's blocking and receiving ability so far this season are under-appreciated, and James Mitchell needs additional reps), and the cap space this year and next will go some way to helping the defense rebound in 2023.
It sucks he's gone. He was an inspiring and exciting player to watch at his best. Hock gets a new start on a playoff-bound team, perhaps this overall is a win-win-win for everyone involved.
What do you make of the trade? Did the Lions receive enough? Anyone but an in-division rival? Would you have re-signed him? Let us know your thoughts.
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