T.J. Hockenson: "I just want to win." Preferably in Detroit.


Last September, T.J. Hockenson saw Mark Andrews sign a four-year, $56 million deal with the Ravens. A couple months later, he saw Dallas Goedert sign a four-year, $57 million deal with the Eagles. And just last month, he saw David Njoku sign a four-year, $55 million deal with the Browns.

Hockenson is the next tight end in line for a payday, preferably with the Lions.

“That's a lot of money,” Hockenson said Tuesday as the Lions opened mandatory minicamp. “That’s life-changing. I'm already in a situation where my life has changed, so really what I want to do is win. That's really all I care about. Money is one thing, but when it hits the bank account doesn't really matter to me. I just want to make this place a winning program.”

Hockenson, who turns 25 next month, is locked in for at least two more seasons in Detroit after the Lions picked up his fifth-year option in April. He has earned the right to be paid like one of the NFL’s top tight ends, and an extension with the team that drafted him eighth overall in 2019 could be in the works between now and the start of this season. Shortly after picking up Frank Ragnow’s fifth-year option last offseason, GM Brad Holmes and the Lions gave him a four-year extension that made him the highest-paid center in the league.

Three-time Pro Bowler George Kittle is the league’s highest-paid tight end after landing a five-year, $75 million deal with the 49ers in 2020. Hockenson won’t command quite that much, but he can reasonably expect Andrews-Goedert-Njkou money, somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 million per year. Andrews, whose production through three seasons was similar to that of Hockenson, signed his deal before leading all tight ends in catches, yards and touchdowns last season.

Hockenson will sign his deal whenever the time is right.

“Honestly, I let my agent deal with that. I'm not very good with the business side of things,” he said with a laugh. “Guys tell me what I should make, what I shouldn't make, and I'm like, 'I don't really care.' I'm going to play between the white lines, and whatever happens will happen. I don't really deal much with that. I told my agent, 'You do your thing, and I'll do my thing.' That's kind of where it's at. I don't really know much, I don't really care to know much.

“I'm just here every day to play with my teammates, and when that time comes to sign a piece of paper, I'll do that.”

Hockenson was a Pro Bowler in 2020 when he finished third among tight ends in yards. He was having an even better season in 2021, if not quite the breakout some expected, before a thumb injury cost him the final five games. His money is coming, which is partly why it doesn’t seem to faze him. And it could very well be coming soon. What matters to Hockenson, after three years of losing in Detroit, is winning. It’s harder to say how soon that might happen for the Lions.

“I want to win,” he reiterated. “That’s the biggest thing. And I want to win here, a lot. I do love Michigan, I do love Detroit, I’ve been around here my whole career. And being around these fans and around the community that they are, they really build around us, good and bad. But the biggest thing is, I’ve spent the last three years going through the grind, and it’s great. You have to have that. On the same hand, just winning is in the back of my mind and I want to do that here so bad. I really do. As a player, as a competitor, that’s all you want to do. That’s all that matters: put me in a major situation and I’m going to win.

“That’s always been my mentality and guys in here can rely on me to do that. That’s the whole mentality that I want and the whole mentality that these guys want in the building. I just want to win. We don’t care about much else as long as our score is above theirs. And I want that here.”

The guys in the building who Hockenson is referring to are the coaches. He's a big fan of Dan Campbell and maybe an even bigger fan of new offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, formerly Detroit's tight ends coach. He believes Johnson can help him reach another level in 2022. These relationships are another reason to believe Hockenson is here for the long haul.

"That’s a big thing for me, is to be around guys that I thoroughly respect and I thoroughly enjoy," he said. "Coach Campbell and Ben, the respect and the care that they have for this program is really high and I’m in the same boat. That doesn’t change from the player. Guys like that you always want to be around, no matter what."

If Holmes and the Lions come to Hockenson with, say, a four-year, $56 million deal in the next few months, he’ll likely sign it. He can’t push his value much higher in 2022, no matter what he does on the field. Kittle’s contract, which is worth $15 million per year, has already put a cap on the market for tight ends. Hockenson hopes he's far from his ceiling in Detroit.

“The money will fall where it may, and the contract will fall where it may,” Hockenson said. "My whole goal with everything is winning. All that other stuff won't affect me."