It seemed inevitable that reports of Danielle Hunter’s “unhappiness” with his contract would eventually surface after Ian Rapoport leaked an ultimatum Hunter’s agents have pushed on the Minnesota Vikings since October.
#Vikings star Danielle Hunter is having surgery to clean up a herniated disc, knocking him out for 2020, per me & @TomPelissero. MIN has a decision this offseason: Make Hunter the highest-paid defender in football or trade him. Have we seen the last of him in a Vikings uniform👀
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 22, 2020
With the start of free agency on Monday, Hunter’s camp took the opportunity to up the ante in the contract dispute.
The Athletic’s Chad Graff reported that Hunter “remains unhappy with his current situation with the Vikings and is exploring all options, including a trade request,” per his sources.
While Hunter’s camp pushes for a new contract, Minnesota had already expressed interest in two different pass rushers before Graff’s report.
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Vikings Chase Trey Hendrickson, Have Placed Offer for Bengals Edge Rusher
Pioneer Press reporter Chris Tomasson reported that the Vikings have reached out to express interest in free-agent defensive end Trey Hendrickson,” who played for the New Orleans Saints last season.
Hendrickson, 26, tallied 13.5 sacks last season in his first season as a starter, which ranked third in the NFL in 2020. He accomplished that despite only playing 53% of defensive snaps for 558 total downs. Over the Cap‘s valuation of Hendrickson projects he should garner an average annual salary in the ballpark of $8.9 million in free agency.
Minnesota also sent an offer to Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson, per Judd Zulgad. Lawson, who has been a consistent contributor since his 2017 rookie year but was part of a struggling Bengals defensive front, tallied 5.5 sacks in 2020. He is valued at $11.6 million a year, per Over the Cap.
Both players likely won’t fetch deals close to their valuation as this year’s free agency is oversaturated with talent due to teams releasing more players than usual and operating under the deflated salary cap.
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Vikings Need to Move Fast
With so many elements in play, the Vikings need to move fast.
Either work out a contract extension with Hunter or trade him for draft capital. Hunter could warrant at least two first-round picks to the right team in a deal similar to Khalil Mack’s when he left the Las Vegas Raiders for the Chicago Bears. The only dilemma holding Hunter from warranting the same type of deal is his status, coming off season-ending neck surgery — which could also be a point of contention in contract negotiations between Hunter and Minnesota.
But with several other teams interested in Hendrickson and Lawson, time is of the essence for Minnesota to know its plans at defensive end heading into the season.
What remains unclear to me is whether the Vikings are actively pursuing top available DEs because they're preparing for a roster without Danielle Hunter or they think they'll get Hunter to stay and want an elite D-line. https://t.co/W7pQNfdtM2
— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) March 15, 2021
Ifeadi Odenigbo is also a restricted free agent and could potentially sign with a new team this week. The Vikings have until Wednesday to place a tender on him that would keep him a restricted free agent and likely in their corner for a future contract.
However, the clock is ticking and if there is no agreement established with Hunter, the 26-year-old star could make a formal trade request or begin a hold out heading into summer training camps.
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