The Minnesota Vikings already stockpiled some draft capital by shipping edge rusher Za’Darius Smith to the AFC North and may look to rinse and repeat the process.
In Bleacher Report’s first trade block big board of 2023, Kristopher Knox named Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter among the top-10 trade candidates in the NFL, listing the Cleveland Browns a top-two potential suitor.
The Minnesota Vikings have actively been moving on from quality veterans this offseason. … Hunter is entering the final year of his contract, and if Minnesota struggles early, he could be the next star to go. Trading Hunter would save $11.5 million off [of] the 2023 salary cap. That’s money Minnesota could put toward extending superstar receiver Justin Jefferson.
The Browns … could look to bring in another Viking if they believe a deep playoff run is possible.
The price for Hunter is tricky to figure, though Minnesota was looking for at least a second-rounder in exchange for the three-time Pro Bowler during his contract dispute with the team this spring/summer. Cleveland owns its own second- and third-round selections in 2024, as well as two fifth-round picks, per the team’s official website.
Vikings May Be Better Served to Trade Danielle Hunter if Team Gets Off to Slow Start
Cleveland sent the Vikings two fifth-round picks in exchange for Pro-Bowl defensive end Za’Darius Smith, a sixth-rounder and a seventh-rounder during the offseason. The reasoning behind the move was pretty simple: Smith no longer wanted to be in Minnesota and the Vikings weren’t about to extend him long-term.
Hunter’s situation is a little different. He’s younger than Smith and won’t turn 29 until mid-season. He also appears to have a little more gas in the tank, excelling down the stretch last season while Smith faded.
However, the similarities in how the two dealt with the team over the offseason are striking. Both engaged in contract disputes, both removed Vikings imagery from their social media accounts and both requested trades.
Minnesota entertained the idea of dealing Hunter, though ultimately gave him a raise to $17 million in guaranteed money for 2023, which could stretch to $20 million with incentives. But the Vikings didn’t extend him. Letting Hunter play out his deal and walk at the end of the season helps Minnesota this year, but it robs the team of one of its greatest trade assets if he walks in free agency.
Moving on from Hunter if this season starts slowly or appears likely to end up as a middling campaign makes sense, particularly if the deal is worked out with a suitor like the Browns who are clearly all-in on trying to win over the next couple of years, which afford the Vikings more negotiating leverage.
Justin Jefferson Next in Line for Historic Contract from Vikings
The money Minnesota can save by moving Hunter is no small matter considering the bill that’s about to come due on Jefferson.
The Vikings just signed tight end T.J. Hockenson to a historic four-year extension worth up to $68.5 million with incentives. Jefferson is next up and is also expected to set the market at his position, which means more than $30 million annually (Tyreek Hill) and more than $140 million total (Davante Adams).
Jefferson is extension-eligible now and is taking a risk by beginning the season without a new deal in place. Injuries, even catastrophic ones, aren’t as damaging to a young NFL star’s bargaining power given the advancements in modern medicine but getting hurt certainly won’t help Jefferson’s cause either.
That means that even if Jefferson gets hurt this season, the Vikings aren’t likely to get a discount when they extend him. And waiting to do a deal, while prioritizing Hockenson ahead of Jefferson and putting the receiver’s financial future in potential peril, could ultimately push the contract price even higher once it’s ultimately signed.