Vikings Urged to Sign $67 Million Star Before He Lands With Rivals

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Minnesota Vikings

Getty General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Minnesota Vikings letting Danielle Hunter walk in free agency could just be the beginning of their problems with the four-time Pro Bowl edge rusher.

Star Tribune columnist La Velle E. Neal predicted that Hunter, who is reported to have a “very strong market” in free agency, could land with the NFC North rival Detroit Lions or Chicago Bears if the Vikings do not re-sign him.

“This outcome is very possible and likely would torment followers of the Purple. Not only would it mean Hunter departed as a free agent, it’d also mean the dynamic defense end signed within the division,” Neal wrote in a February 17 column. “Detroit’s Aidan Hutchinson or Chicago’s Montez Sweat would be thrilled to add another pass-rushing savant on their lines. And Hunter would have two shots a season to show the Vikings what they are missing.”

ESPN’s Dan Graziano reported on February 10 that the Bears are “very high” on Hunter and have ample cap space to sign the 29-year-old coming off career highs in sacks (16.5), forced fumbles (4), total tackles (89) and tied for the league lead with 23 tackles for loss.

Hunter, whose health came into question after he missed the entire 2020 season with a neck injury and half of the 2021 season due to a torn pectoral injury, has since played every game the past two years.

Neal urged the Vikings to strike a deal on a contract extension with Hunter to avoid the possibility of the Lions or Bears forging one of the league’s most formidable pass rush tandems with Hunter.

“In order to eliminate the possibility of Hunter haunting the Vikings, all they have to do is sign him to a contract extension,” Neal wrote.

The problem with Neal’s plea: Hunter’s contract talks with the Vikings are currently “on hold.”

Danielle Hunter Waiting for Vikings to Handle Kirk Cousins’ Deal: Report

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter played several years under Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer

GettyMinnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter

While it would be wise for the Vikings to prioritize Hunter as Neal suggested, they’ve currently left him in limbo less than a month before free agency opens on March 13.

According to a February 10 ESPN report, the Vikings have put their contract talks with Hunter “on hold” until they resolve whether to re-sign Kirk Cousins or let the veteran quarterback walk in free agency.

Unfortunately, the Vikings are unlikely to reach a final answer on Cousins until after the NFL Scouting Combine. They’ve had months to come to an agreement but yet no deal has been met. There will likely be one final negotiation after Cousins’ agent learns of Cousins’ competing offers at the combine.

That’s also when Hunter will learn the potential contract he could strike in free agency, and that will force the Vikings hand to match. Ideally, the Vikings could sign Hunter before he learns his value at the combine, which Pro Football Focus projected to be a three-year deal worth $67 million.

If the Vikings truly want either star, they should secure them to an extension before they receive a competitive offer from teams that have much more cap space to spend.

Danielle Hunter and Kirk Cousins’ Linked Fate

Kevin O'Connell, Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings

GettyKirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings.

There’s a case to be made that Cousins and Hunter are a package deal, considering letting either player go would dramatically impact their side of the ball.

Signing Cousins without Hunter would leave the Vikings’ pass rush depleted and would not offer a season anymore encouraging than a first-round exit in the playoffs.

But moving on from Cousins would signal a potential step back considering the $28 million in dead cap Cousins is owed if he is not re-signed.

If the Vikings draft well in 2024, there is a timeline where Hunter is still in his prime and contributing to a meaningful run at the postseason with the Vikings.

However, Hunter may want to spend the final years of his career with a more surefire contender, which is no guaranteed with a change at quarterback in Minnesota.

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