Chicago has made a bevy of moves since March, including trading the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. But none of those maneuvers landed the team a high-end pass rusher after the Bears produced a league-worst 20 sacks last season. There are still a handful of different ways Chicago can add to the position, and one underrated option is the pursuit of a trade for Vikings pass rusher Danielle Hunter.
Hunter is vying for a new contract as he enters the final year of a $72 million deal he signed back in 2018. The outside linebacker is scheduled to earn just $4.9 million in base salary in 2023, which is well below the market value for pass rusher of his caliber entering his year-29 season. After deleting all Vikings imagery on his social media pages in mid-April, Hunter chose not to attend Minnesota’s first voluntary team workouts of the new year, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
Meanwhile, the Vikings dealt fellow Pro-Bowl pass rusher Za’Darius Smith to the Cleveland Browns for two fifth-round draft picks. The Vikings included a future sixth-rounder and a future seventh-round selection in the deal. Smith is a couple of years older than Hunter and moving him offered Minnesota more than twice the salary cap savings that dealing Hunter will.
The Vikings can ask more and get more for Hunter than they could for Smith, making him a more valuable trade prospect and pushing his value north. The Bears traded a similarly skilled player in Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers last offseason and received a second-round pick and a sixth-round pick in return. Hunter could command something in the range of a second-round pick in his own right, as any deal can be accompanied by a contract extension that locks the pass rusher into his new team through the remainder of his prime.
Ryan Poles Says Bears Open to Trading for Edge Rusher
Bears general manager Ryan Poles recently teased the idea of the team trading to upgrade its pass rush, adding that a move could be made sooner than later.
“We’re working on it. We don’t stop working and looking at different avenues to bring players in,” Poles said on the Friday, May 12 edition of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & Holmes Show. “There are some options, potentially trade options. There’s also some guys on the street still that can potentially come in and help us. We’re kind of looking at everything right now, maybe something will happen sooner rather than later.”
Hunter should be a name atop the list of trade prospects for Chicago. He earned his third-trip to the Pro Bowl last season, amassing 10.5 sacks and 34 quarterback pressures. Hunter tallied six sacks in just seven games in 2021. He amassed 14.5 sacks in each of his last two full campaigns in 2018 and 2019, per Pro Football Reference. Hunter missed the entirety of the 2020 season due to a herniated disc in his neck.
3 Quality Free Agent Pass Rushers Still Available to Bears
Ngakoue is probably the best choice should Chicago decide to go the free agency route. He is not as decorated of a player as either Clark or Ngakoue, but he has been a much more consistent disruptor of opposing backfields than both over the last several regular seasons.
Clark is a three-time Pro Bowler but did most of his damage to opposing quarterbacks during the earlier portion of his career, save for some impressive playoff performances of late with the Kansas City Chiefs. Houston put up 9.5 sacks for the Baltimore Ravens last season but will play the upcoming campaign at 34 years old. Ngakoue will play this year at the age of 28 and has put up at least eight sacks in all seven of his NFL seasons.
Hunter is a superior option to all three, though he will cost the Bears more. Not only does Hunter figure to sign a longer deal for more annual money than Ngakoue, Clark or Houson, but the Bears will also have to part with a valuable draft asset to acquire him.