The Minnesota Vikings and Danielle Hunter have made amends.
Hunter’s rumor-filled offseason and absence from team activities ended on Tuesday. The 26-year-old Pro Bowl pass rusher appeared at minicamps after both sides agreed to restructure his contract on Monday, putting $5.6 million of Hunter’s 2021 salary in his pocket in the form of a signing bonus, per an NFL Network report.
However, the restructuring also created a crucial date in determining Hunter’s future with the team next March.
The latest Vikings news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Vikings newsletter here!
‘Major Fork in the Road’
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the initial inkling of Hunter’s grievances with his pay in October when Hunter underwent season-ending surgery for a herniated disc in his neck.
Hunter signed a five-year, $72 million contract in 2018 and quickly emerged as one of the top edge rushers in the league — tallying the second-most sacks (29) of any pass rusher — before missing the 2020 season. He was the 17th highest-paid edge rusher in the league before restructuring with three years and only $15 million of his $40 million guaranteed remaining on his contract.
Minnesota sweetened Hunter’s 2021 salary with the signing bonus and established an ultimatum for both sides to return to the negotiating table in March.
“The more significant change, though, comes in 2022, when a new $18 million roster bonus is set to trigger on the fifth day of the league year. That date will serve as a decision point for the Vikings, who can either decide to keep Hunter on the roster at the expensive price of $20 million — with $18 million guaranteed via the roster bonus, if he’s still on the team on that date — sign him to a new deal or release Hunter in order to save money,” Rappoport added, per NFL Network. “Essentially, what was once a five-year extension now becomes a four-year agreement, with a major fork in the road arriving in March.”
Entering the 2020 season, Hunter was deemed a superstar that the Vikings should never let go of by NFL senior analyst Gil Brandt. Brandt’s case was easily justifiable after the 2019 season when Hunter became the youngest player to reach 50 sacks in NFL history.
However, coming off an injury entering the 2021 season, Hunter needs to show he’s the same player he was pre-operation or next March could be messier than this spring.
Die-hard Vikings fan? Follow the Heavy on Vikings Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content out of Skol Nation!
What’s Next With Hunter
Hunter’s potential cap hit of over $20 million in 2022 forces the Vikings to decide on the star’s future.
If Hunter struggles to return to his same form and is unwilling to restructure his contract, the Vikings could resort to cutting him and eating $10.5 million in dead cap, per Zone Coverage’s Nick Olson, to save nearly half of the money he would be owed by the fifth day of the league year. Minnesota could also trade Hunter and gain some draft capital and players.
Hunter playing out the final year of his deal may not be in the cards as both sides would again find themselves at odds over a contract extension for the following season.
The most likely outcome, per Olson, would be Minnesota reaching an extension before the fifth day of the 2022 season to lighten Hunter’s hit on the 2022 salary cap, which includes Kirk Cousins‘ $45 million cap hit and pending extensions and re-signings for several veterans brought in during the 2021 offseason.