Over the Cap founder Jason Fitzgerald has become one of the lead cap specialists as a consultant for many NFL teams and agents on contracts and player appraisal over the years.
Fitzgerald, reflecting on Minnesota Vikings star Danielle Hunter’s signing of a five-year, $72 million contract in 2018, saw Hunter’s unhappiness with the deal as inevitable.
“The situation with Hunter was one you saw coming right away,” Fitzgerald said on the OTC podcast on June 22. “I remember saying that he was going to regret that one right away… That deal was just plain garbage.”
Hunter and the Vikings settled on a restructured deal in time for the 26-year-old Pro Bowler to avoid fines by attending minicamps. Fitzgerald broke down the full details of restructuring his most recent podcast episode and found the deal to be “pure brilliance on Minnesota’s part.
The latest Vikings news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Vikings newsletter here!
‘Pure Brilliance From Minnesota’
At the age of 23, Hunter posted 19.5 sacks in his previous two seasons before signing his contract in June 2018. Hunter, just reaching his prime physically, eagerly agreed to a deal where he would make $14.4 million annually despite playing on-par with Von Miller, who made $19.5 million a season while posting 23.5 sacks from 2016-17.
Fitzgerald pointed to the fact Hunter took on a long-term contract where he took less money than Everson Griffen, who agreed to an extension that averaged to $14.5 million per year in 2017 in the waning years of his prime.
“There’s no reason a young 25-year-old stud pass rusher should be making less money — on the same team — than a 30-year-old who was signed before him. That deal made no sense at all… (Hunter) short-changed himself,” Fitzgerald said.
While Hunter had $5.6 million of his roster bonus — which is paid out on a per-game basis — converted into a fully guaranteed signing bonus, the Vikings virtually lost nothing in restructuring Hunter’s contract as the signing bonus can be stretched across the remaining years of his original contract.
In turn, Minnesota created more cap space and signed defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson the day after the contract restructuring — a move that fortified the team’s pass rush. Hunter received more of his paid dues upfront, while the Vikings avoided a holdout in the midst of an offseason rebuild of the defense.
“It was pure crisis-management brilliance from Minnesota,” Fitzgerald said.
Die-hard Vikings fan? Follow the Heavy on Vikings Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content out of Skol Nation!
The $18 Million Ultimatum
Star Tribune reporter Ben Goessling revealed the full terms of Hunter’s contract last week, which includes a potentially huge payoff for Hunter in 2022 — an $18 million roster bonus that fully guarantees on the fifth day of the 2022 league year.
However, Hunter likely won’t reach that paydirt immediately — or at all.
If he performs well, the Vikings likely will renegotiate an extension with Hunter and likely turn that roster bonus into another signing bonus and stretch that guaranteed money across the length over the next four years, Fitzgerald said. If he proves not to be the same player, coming off surgery on a herniated disc in his neck, Minnesota could cut or trade him before the fifth day of the league year and avoid the $18 million in dead cap entirely.
While the numbers and contracts and constantly in flux, Hunter’s 2021 roster bonus did buy one thing for the Vikings and him — time.
“They have all the time in the world to work out an extension,” Fitzgerald said.