The Chicago Bears need a premier pass rusher and one of the best in the game is rumored to be potentially available via trade.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported on Wednesday, June 7, that several teams have reached out to the Minnesota Vikings to inquire about the availability of outside linebacker Danielle Hunter. The three-time Pro Bowler is entering the final season of a five-year, $72 million contract that pays him just $5.5 million in 2023, leaving him looking for a new deal.
There will be no shortage of franchises who can use a resurgent player at a premium position, though an argument can be made that the Bears both need Hunter more than any other team and are the most equipped to craft a deal lucrative enough to entice Minnesota to the negotiating table.
“Going into the 2023 season, the Bears have worked hard to bulk up the trenches on both sides of the football. Three of their first four picks were on the offensive and defensive lines, but the edge position is really thin,” Tyler Forness of USA Today’s Vikings Wire wrote Wednesday. “The Bears made a transformative move in 2018 when they traded for Khalil Mack. Bringing in a player like Hunter could transform their defense from day one, and [he] is young enough to keep making an impact when the rebuild is completed.”
Danielle Hunter’s Shade Toward Vikings Adds Credence to Trade Rumors
Hunter has spent the better part of the previous two months playing hardball with the Vikings in a variety of ways.
First, he deleted all team imagery from his Instagram account in mid-April. Hunter’s next step was to skip voluntary OTAs in May. Despite his tactics, little has been reported about progress on a new deal for Hunter in Minnesota. However, rampant speculation has been that the Vikings will eventually cave and give the pass rusher the contract he wants.
It’s hard to argue that Hunter doesn’t deserve a new, multiyear contract after the season he had in 2022. He led the Vikings with 10.5 sacks and added 34 quarterback pressures, 22 quarterback hits, 12 tackles for loss, three pass breakups and a forced fumble, per Pro Football Reference.
Hunter also earned a Pro-Bowl nod for the third time in five years. The only two campaigns in which he failed to win that honor came in 2020 when the linebacker missed the entirety of the season with neck injury, and in 2021 when he suffered a torn pectoral after amassing six sacks through seven games.
Danielle Hunter Offers Bears New Shot at Edge Rusher After Missing on Premium Names
Chicago entered the offseason leading the NFL in cap space. After a blockbuster deal that saw the team trade the No. 1 overall pick to the Carolina Panthers, the Bears also had 10 draft choices at their disposal. Yet still, the edge of the defense remains relatively bare.
Yannick Ngakoue is a free agent name that has been bandied about often in connection to Chicago, but he came out recently and expressed a desire to play for a contender this year, and the Bears could be a hard sell in that regard.
Former Kansas City Chiefs defender and playoff sack specialist Frank Clark was another free agent often linked to Chicago, but he came off the board on Thursday after deciding to sign a one-year deal with the Denver Broncos, per Nick Shook of NFL.com.
Bears brass has said repeatedly that the team plans to add an edge rusher to the mix beyond DeMarcus Walker, but the options continue to wane as the summer presses on. The team not only has the salary cap space to pay Hunter, $32.6 million as of Thursday, but the draft capital to make it worth the Vikings’ while.
However, Minnesota released running back Dalvin Cook on Thursday, clearing $9 million in space of its own and pushing its current open cap well north of $18 million. The Vikings’ new balance sheet will allow them to re-sign Hunter and leave plenty of money left over to make another move or two.
Reading between the lines, that probably means Chicago will need to offer a significant draft package to Minnesota in exchange for Hunter, which could complicate the matter.