The Minnesota Vikings have been cutting costs for months and now some hefty bills are beginning to come due.
Three-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Danielle Hunter was noticeably absent from team facilities when the first voluntary meetings of 2023 began on Monday, April 17. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN reported on that day that the move was indicative of Hunter’s desire for a new contract.
Just one day later, Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report predicted Hunter will ink a four-year contract for $92.5 million, including $57.5 million guaranteed.
The 28-year-old has already deleted all team photos from his social media accounts, and it’s possible the Vikings could shop the disgruntled edge-rusher in trade talks. But with over $11 million in bonus money on the books for [the] voidable years [on his current contract], the Vikings aren’t going to release Hunter. Doing so before June 1 would cost them an additional $5.7 million in cap space.
Hunter would all but certainly generate more interest on the trade market than fellow edge-rusher Za’Darius Smith, who is already [on] the wrong side of 30. But since the Vikings fashion themselves as contenders, the most likely outcome here is an extension that both locks down Hunter as a linchpin for Brian Flores‘ defense and potentially buys Minnesota some short-term salary-cap relief.
Danielle Hunter Had Resurgent Pro Bowl Season for Vikings in 2022
Reasonable arguments exist on both sides of the Hunter contract situation — one to pay him his money and one to go in another direction.
The first argument, and likely the winning one, is that Hunter returned with a vengeance last season by amassing 34 quarterback pressures, 22 quarterback hits, 12 tackles for loss and a team-leading 10.5 sacks to go along with three pass breakups and a forced fumble, per Pro Football Reference.
His performance in 2022 earned Hunter the third Pro Bowl nod of his career. He has now been in the NFL for eight seasons will turn 29 years old in October. If Hunter can remain relatively healthy he is a safe bet to be worth the money for at least the next three or four campaigns.
Danielle Hunter’s Injury History Biggest Concern for Vikings Moving Forward
The argument against Hunter is that there isn’t sufficient evidence to suggest he will stay healthy enough to earn a significant extension from a salary-cap-strapped franchise restructuring for a younger and more flexible future.
Hunter sat out all of 2020 due to a neck injury that required surgery. Hunter’s neck resurfaced as a problem in December of 2022, though he played through the pain and didn’t miss a game in the regular season or playoffs. He was hurt again in 2021 after a strong start to that campaign (six sacks in seven games), suffering a torn pectoral muscle that sidelined him for the final 10 contests of the season.
However, the rarity of Hunter’s skill set at one of the NFL’s premium positions coupled with 18 consecutive starts over the 2022 regular season/postseason campaign should trump the Vikings’ concerns over the prolific pass rusher’s health.
Hunter is barreling toward the 100-sack mark with 71 career sacks in 102 career games played. There wasn’t an edge rusher anywhere in free agency in 2023 with close to his track record of success and despite signing a 5-year deal worth $72 million that will keep him locked up through next season, the $5.5 million in total cash ($4.9 million in base salary) Hunter is scheduled to make in 2023 is far below his actual value.
If the Vikings want to avoid an ugly holdout situation as well as the risk of alienating one of the league’s premier pass rushers in the process, they will get to the negotiating table and bang out a lucrative extension for Hunter sooner than later.