Vikings agree to terms with Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson on contract extension

FILE - Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson, front right, catches a 15-yard touchdown pass over New York Giants safety Julian Love (20) and cornerback Darnay Holmes (30) during the second half of an NFL football game Dec. 24, 2022, in Minneapolis. Hockenson had a slow start to his career after being drafted in the first round by Detroit in 2019 but really broke out last season following a mid-season trade. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings made a bold midseason move last year to trade for T.J. Hockenson.

Now they've given him a new contract to match.

Hockenson signed a four-year extension Thursday through the 2027 season that's the richest in the league for a tight end.

According to NFL Network, the eighth overall pick in the 2019 draft will get a maximum value of $68.5 million to edge Darren Waller (New York Giants) in terms of annual average value and $42.5 million guaranteed to top George Kittle (San Francisco 49ers). Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs), who has long been considered the gold standard at the position, signed his last extension three years ago and is fourth in the league in annual average value, according to salary data compiled by Over The Cap.

“I’m excited to actually play football and go out there and have to not worry about anything else and move forward from everything and go win some games," Hockenson said after practice. "That’s really what we’re here for.”

Hockenson was the eighth overall pick by Detroit in the 2019 draft out of Iowa. The two-time Pro Bowl pick was acquired in a deadline-day trade last year by the Vikings and had 60 catches for 519 yards in 10 games. His season total of 914 receiving yards was a career high.

“T.J. is a dynamic route-running tight end who can win routes in one-on-one settings versus linebackers, safeties. We can move him all over the formation," coach Kevin O'Connell said. “I do think he’s a three-down player.”

Hockenson was only a limited participant for most of training camp, first citing an ear infection that caused equilibrium trouble and later attributing his absence to lower back stiffness. Hockenson repeatedly said he wasn't holding back because of his contract extension.

“I don’t think there was ever any sense of quid pro quo or anything like that,” Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said. “I can’t tell you anything for certain, but I didn’t view it as that at all. I just felt like there was a process that needed to play out.”

Hockenson was close to a full participant in practice this week, O'Connell said, and is expected to be in the starting lineup for the season opener Sept. 10 against Tampa Bay.

“I’m feeling good. I’m feeling better. I’m still working into September 10th,” Hockenson said. “That’s what we were trying to be smart with: Just get me ready for the season.”

The Vikings sent a 2023 second-round draft pick and a 2024 third-round draft pick to the Lions for Hockenson and two draft picks (a fourth-round draft pick in 2023 and a conditional draft pick in 2024). He set an NFL record for the most receptions (26) by a tight end in his first four games with a team.

“It’s truly a good fit for me here,” said Hockenson, who repeatedly used the word “brotherhood” to describe his feelings about playing for the Vikings. “You don’t experience that very often in this league, because it is such a cutthroat business.”

The native of Chariton, Iowa, also gets to continue to play close to home.

“It’s one thing to make money," he said, "but it’s another thing to be happy with where you are.”

With Hockenson locked up for the long term, the Vikings have one more contract situation to resolve with a pending extension for superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson. He still has two years left on his rookie deal, but the Vikings would be unwise to play hardball with the reigning Associated Press NFL Offensive Player of the Year award winner.

“Justin’s someone we want around here for a very long time," Adofo-Mensah said.

O'Connell also announced the eight captains for the season at a joint news conference with Adofo-Mensah: Jefferson, quarterback Kirk Cousins, fullback C.J. Ham, right tackle Brian O'Neill, outside linebacker Danielle Hunter, linebacker Jordan Hicks, safety Harrison Smith and safety and special teams ace Josh Metellus. Cousins was an unanimous pick by his teammates, excluding his own ballot.

With running back Kene Nwangwu on injured reserve with a lower back injury, O'Connell said Ty Chandler will start as the primary kickoff returner. Chandler is the backup to starter Alexander Mattison. Myles Gaskin was added Wednesday for depth with Nwangwu sidelined. The Vikings also signed eighth-year linebacker Nick Vigil, who started in their base defense in 2021, to the 16-player practice squad.