Vikings Projected to Extend $72 Million Star on Long-Term Deal

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Vikings

Getty General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah of the Minnesota Vikings speaks to the media during the NFL Combine at the Indiana Convention Center on February 28, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The Minnesota Vikings are looking at a defensive overhaul this offseason, though at least one stalwart is poised to land a significant contract extension.

Edge rusher Danielle Hunter faced what was, at times, an awkward transition to new head coach Kevin O’Connell’s 3-4 defensive scheme in 2022. That said, the Vikings veteran tallied 34 quarterback pressures, 22 quarterback hits and 10.5 sacks to earn the third Pro-Bowl selection of his seven-year NFL career, per Pro Football Reference.

Kevin Seifert of ESPN on Wednesday, March 1, took a deep dive into some of the biggest names on Minnesota’s roster and their projections for next season. Seifert predicted Hunter will be back on the team playing on an extension that will allow the Vikings to keep their best pass rusher while also saving up to eight-figures against the salary cap.

[Hunter’s] salary cap number for 2023 is $13.1 million, and despite the 2022 sack total, he did not always look comfortable as a standup outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. Releasing or trading Hunter would accelerate an additional $5.7 million onto the Vikings’ salary cap. A new deal could shave $10 million from his 2023 cap figure.

Hunter is 28 and proved last season he was past his injury battles of 2020 and 2021. Given the value of pass rushing, and the potential of [Za’Darius] Smith’s departure, a contract extension would be the smartest approach to take with Hunter. If the sides can’t agree, however, the possibility of a trade shouldn’t be ruled out. Hunter is the Vikings’ most lucrative (and realistic) asset if they want to replenish their supply of 2023 draft picks (the Vikings currently have four picks.)

Hunter Critical to Vikings Defense if Za’Darius Smith Leaves Team

Danielle Hunter, Vikings

GettyEdge rusher Danielle Hunter of the Minnesota Vikings rushes the quarterback during a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on January 8, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Hunter matters a great deal to the Vikings defense, but will even more so if Smith doesn’t return next season.

Smith joined Hunter in the double-digit sack club with 10 of his own in 2022, though Seifert dubbed Smith’s status with Minnesota as more precarious than Hunter’s for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is that the Vikings can save more than $12 million against the salary cap by parting ways with Smith in the coming weeks.

“New defensive coordinator Brian Flores plans to use a 3-4 scheme that would seem to fit Smith’s skills and past success. But a cold calculation of Smith’s age and his performance in the second half of last season would send red flags about remaining committed to him at his current numbers,” Seifert wrote. “Smith isn’t likely to feel compelled to take a pay cut, if the Vikings offer it, given the way pass rushers are typically valued on the free agent market. Releasing Smith would be a clear path to opening up salary cap space.”

Minnesota was $24.4 million over the cap as of March 1.

Smith, who will turn 31 years old just as next season begins, joined the Vikings roster in 2022 after a three-year stint with the Green Bay Packers. He actually outperformed Hunter slightly in the pass rushing department, tallying 37 quarterback pressures, 24 quarterback hits and 10 sacks in 2022. He also earned his third Pro-Bowl nod for his efforts last year.

Smith put his home in Eagan, Minnesota, up for sale approximately one week ago.

Vikings Face Major Decisions on Several Key Defenders in 2023

Za'Darius Smith

GettyEdge rusher Za’Darius Smith of the Minnesota Vikings looks on prior to a game against the Dallas Cowboys at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

The Vikings will also be forced to take a hard look at multiple defenders beyond Hunter and Smith this offseason.

Linebackers Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks are potential salary cap casualties, as each offer significant financial relief should Minnesota choose to move on.

Six-time Pro-Bowl safety Harrison Smith may also wind up on the chopping block, as he recently turned 34 and has struggled with injury issues later in his career.

Read More
Comment Here
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x