ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported on April 17 that Hunter “is not expected to attend the start of Minnesota’s voluntary offseason program, per sources.
“The absence is likely due to his contract — he’s set to make $4.9 million in the last year of his deal, well below market for a three-time Pro Bowler,” Fowler tweeted.
Shortly after reports of Hunter’s absence surfaced, his Instagram page was wiped of all team-related photos — a move other players have made amid contract negotiations.
Though OTAs are voluntary, Hunter has a $100,000 workout bonus he will not receive as he plays the long game in his aims at a lucrative contract extension in Minnesota.
A 2015 third-round pick, Hunter quickly developed into one of the premier pass-rushing talents in the league, becoming in 2019 the youngest player (25) to reach 50 career sacks.
He underwent surgery on a herniated disc in his neck in 2020, but bounced back to post 16.5 sacks in 24 games the past two seasons. He tallied 10.5 sacks in 2022 and played all 17 games, putting pressure on Minnesota to lock down the 28-year-old long-term.
Vikings, Danielle Hunter Contract Saga Reaches Coda
Since signing a five-year, $72 million contract extension in 2018, Hunter has seemingly had perennial contract drama with the Vikings.
He outproduced that deal in 2018 and 2019, tallying 14.5 sacks each season. He had his deal restructured in 2020 before what former head coach Mike Zimmer described as a “tweak” in his neck shut down his 2020 season before it ever began.
When NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Hunter would undergo surgery, it also came with some speculation, likely a leak from Hunter’s representation, that Minnesota would have to make him the “highest-paid defender in football” or trade him.
Hunter held out from 2021 offseason activities, leading to the Vikings restructuring his contract to give him a $5.6 million signing bonus upfront. The Rick Spielman regime tacked on two void years to Hunter’s deal, spreading that bonus across five years into 2025 and gave him an $18 million roster bonus that would toll in March 2022 — pushing the long-term ultimatum on Hunter for the 2022 offseason.
That was the contractual mess Kwesi Adofo-Mensah inherited in his first year as general manager. The new general manager opted to convert that roster bonus to a signing bonus, effectively spreading the $18 million across the final two years and an additional two void years on Hunter’s contract to free up enough cap space to sign Za’Darius Smith.
Despite some early struggles adjusting to a 3-4 defense, Hunter finished the season with 10.5 sacks and 70 pressures to earn his third Pro Bowl nod. His performance, also his first full season healthy since 2019, was worthy of a $19.4 million deal annually, according to Over the Cap.
Hunter’s camp had negotiated a bad deal on his terms back in 2018, but that doesn’t take away from the fact he has yet to make top-1o edge rusher money. He carries a $13.1 million cap hit in 2023, which ranks 17th among edge rushers.
There’s still another $11.2 million in bonuses on the two void years in Hunter’s contract after the 2023 season, so Minnesota is still greatly invested in him. Releasing Hunter would only accelerate the sum of the two bonuses onto next year’s cap, meaning Minnesota would sink $11.2 million in dead cap for a star player who won’t be on the roster.
That’s why a trade or an extension is bound to happen in the coming months — with an extension the most likely option.
How Much Are the Vikings Willing to Pay Hunter?
Considering Adofo-Mensah made Hunter his first call when he became general manager, the new Vikings regime sees the 28-year-old as a fixture in the franchise for years to come.
They’ll have to pay him to be one, too.
A two- or three-year extension would be ideal for the Vikings, who already have money on the books for him in 2024 and 2025. Hunter will likely be looking for a deal in the ballpark of $20 million a year, a figure seven pass rushers exceed currently.
Hunter at his best is well worth that price tag, especially with T.J. Watt resetting the edge rusher market with a deal worth $28 million annually.
However, it’s still a slight gamble considering Hunter’s age.