The Minnesota Vikings could have a yard sale this offseason.
Ownership has begun preparing a search for a new head coach — and Mike Zimmer isn’t the only one on the chopping block. General manager Rick Spielman and quarterback Kirk Cousins have been considered candidates the team could cut loose if the franchise is considering a complete rebuild.
But beyond the most integral trio to the team, other significant moves will be made on the defense. This year, five defensive starters are playing on expiring contracts and will reach free agency if not re-signed by March 16.
Another decision surrounds Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter, who was the youngest player to reach 50 career sacks at the age of 25, but has since played just seven games in the past two seasons due to injury troubles.
Hunter carries a hefty $26.1 million cap hit next season, per OverTheCap, which ranks seventh among edge rushers.
If the Vikings wanted to get out from under Hunter’s cap hit, they realistically will either extend or trade him. After Hunter fueled trade rumors amid negotiations to restructure his contract last offseason, Hunter has become subject of a “splash” trade proposal to a familiar AFC trade partner.
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Hunter Subject of ‘Splash’ Trade to AFC
On the Badlands podcast, co-hosts Joe Caporoso and Connor Rogers discussed potential trades the New York Jets should consider this offseason to help the team improve next season after going 4-12 through 17 weeks.
Rogers deemed Hunter as a veteran edge rusher that could fit the bill.
“My overall point is I think they need to find a veteran EDGE rusher,” Rogers stated, per Heavy’s Paul A. Esden Jr. “I’ve said the name Danielle Hunter before and that would be the big splash move.”
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Vikings Have $18 Million Ultimatum With Hunter
When NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport broke the news that Hunter would undergo season-ending neck surgery in 2020, it came with an alarming non-sequitur.
“MIN has a decision this offseason,” Rapoport tweeted in October 2020. “Make Hunter the highest-paid defender in football or trade him. Have we seen the last of him in a Vikings uniform?”
The Vikings and Hunter agreed on a contract restructuring during the 2021 offseason that pushed the decision to sign Hunter to a new long-term contract further down the road. To offer Hunter an incentive upon returning from injury, the Vikings agreed to an $18 million roster bonus.
Hunter proved he could come back from season-ending surgery on a herniated disc in his neck and still perform like his Pro Bowl self. Helping the Vikings become the NFL’s leader in sacks through the first two months of the season, Hunter tallied six sacks in seven games before suffering a season-ending torn pectoral injury.
However, availability is the best ability, and Hunter’s absence the past two seasons could leave the Vikings willing to entertain trade offers.
Hunter Could Garner High-Value Draft Picks
Esden Jr. projected that for the Jets to acquire Hunter in a trade, it would require offering a massive haul, including a first- and mid-round draft picks being the center of the trade conversation.
If the Vikings trade Hunter after June 1, they would only be on the hook for his $6.3 million base salary, while a trade suitor would pick up his roster bonus, which is allocated across each game of a given season.
But if Minnesota chooses to keep Hunter, they’ll have to work out an extension. Hunter’s roster bonus could be spread across the next four seasons if converted to a signing bonus, which is fully guaranteed. His cap hit for 2022 would be $12.7 million, but it would be fully guaranteed, per Inside The Vikings’ Will Ragatz.
Keeping Hunter without updating his contract wouldn’t be the wisest financial move, especially if Cousins remains on the team with his $45 million cap hit next season. Both players could be candidates for contract extensions due to their weight on the team coffers.
For that same reason, they could also be prime targets to move if the franchise decides to shed all tenants of the Spielman-Zimmer regime and create as much cap space to rebuild as possible. The likely outcome will be somewhere in the middle with the team retaining some of its stars and moving on from others.
Which ones go remain to be seen.