Vikings Shouldn’t Overreact to Star’s Injury

t.j. hockenson
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General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has a plethora of problems to address in the next few months with free agency and the draft approaching. Kirk Cousins is set to enter free agency for the first time since 2018, and he might take Pro Bowl defender Danielle Hunter with him. Justin Jefferson wants to sign a new contract. All of these things will contribute to a tumultuous offseason.

Vikings Shouldn’t Overreact to Star’s Injury

Overreact to Star's Injury
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The GM also faces some minor crises. Jordan Hicks and Dalton Risner are two more starters without a contract for another season, and receiver K.J. Osborn leaves a void at the WR3 spot. Head coach Kevin O’Connell is also in need of a new running back, and DC Brian Flores would like a pair of decent edge rushers, a solid cornerback room, and a defensive tackle.

Well, all those things need some attention, and Adofo-Mensah has some cap space and nine draft picks to make changes. That might not be enough, considering the challenges he is facing.

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For that reason, it is necessary to stay calm when confronted with some unfortunate circumstances. The Vikings could be without their star tight end, T.J. Hockenson, early in the 2024 campaign. He tore his ACL and MCL because of a controversial hit from Lions defensive back Kerby Joseph in Week 16. A few weeks later, the Rams lost their tight end, Tyler Higbee, to the same injury after a similar tackle.

On January 29, the Vikings announced Hockenson’s ACL surgery by knee specialist Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles. They waited roughly five weeks because they wanted to let that MCL heal first. A standard procedure, but it extends the timeline.

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The kickoff of the 2024 campaign is in roughly seven months, and the Vikings will surely not rush their pricey target back. They took a cautious approach with Jefferson during the 2023 season, and they will likely be as careful with him.

Recovery timelines always vary, and no information about his schedule is available. However, it is fair to say that the beginning of the season is in jeopardy. But that shouldn’t change Minnesota’s plan.

While Hockenson is a crucial part of the offense as the second target in the passing game as well as a blocker in the rushing attack, the Vikings will be fine for a few games without the fantastic tight end on the field.

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The backups cannot do his job, but they can do some parts of it. Josh Oliver was signed to a lucrative two-year $24 million contract last year. He is one of the league’s top blockers from the tight end spot, and he can be a safety blanket in the passing game. Oliver’s route tree is limited compared to his teammates; he doesn’t run away from defenders and, therefore, doesn’t generate extra attention from defenses, but he can catch the ball when it’s thrown to him.

In addition, the purple team employed Johnny Mundt in the last two seasons, and he has proven to be a reliable target. He had a significant role before Hockenson arrived and stepped up after Hockenson’s injury.

Minnesota Vikings tight end Johnny Mundt (86) scores a touchdown on a six-yard reception while being covered by Green Bay Packers cornerback Keisean Nixon (25) during the fourth quarter of their game Sunday, December 31, 2023, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Green Bay Packers beat the Minnesota Vikings 33-10.

Mundt’s contract will expire in March, but his return should be a no-brainer, considering his low price tag. However, he should still play effectively as a backup. Nick Muse was a seventh-rounder in 2022 and, as a restricted free agent, is also likely to return.

The Vikings might want to reinforce the position and add a cheap free agent or throw a dart at a prospect late in the draft, but they should by no means sign a third expensive tight end just because Hockenson might miss a few games. With Jefferson and Jordan Addison on the field, the tight end isn’t required to be targeted ten times a game to have a functioning offense.

Hockenson will turn 27 in July and hopefully return sooner rather than later and play like his pre-injury self. Despite missing two-and-a-half games, he ranked fourth in receiving yards by a tight end, only 60 yards behind league leader George Kittle.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt