Vikings Favor $72 Million Star, Insider Says, Signaling 3-Time Pro Bowler’s Exit

Brian Flores

Courtesy of Vikings Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores had his introductory press conference on February 15, 2022.

The Minnesota Vikings are heading toward a fork in the road between Pro Bowl pass rushers in Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter — and the direction they hope to go appears to be set.

KSTP’s Darren Wolfson reported on April 12 that new defensive coordinator Brian Flores wants Hunter to stay amid a quiet contract dispute.

“I did hear that Brian Flores is really, really pumped up to coach Danielle; that Danielle, it’s mutual, is pumped up to play under Brian Flores,” Wolfson said. “So do the Vikings find a way to give him some sort of bump, extend him? I think that will play out come May and June, maybe into July.”

ESPN’s Kevin Seifert predicted that the Vikings will extend Hunter, who signed a five-year, $72 million deal in 2018. Smith has postured his departure on social media this offseason (likely due to some grievances with his contract) in light of the growing likelihood of extending Hunter.

The situation became muddier when Minnesota signed former New Orleans Saints edge rusher Marcus Davenport to a one-year deal in March, one of the top free-agent adds on Flores’ shopping list. Davenport’s arrival has prompted a decision to be made on Smith or Hunter.

Minnesota, currently $1.4 million under the salary cap, still needs to free up significant funds to sign their rookie class and reach extensions with Justin Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson and potentially Hunter — making the three-man rotation of Davenport, Smith and Hunter unlikely to fit the team’s cap constraints.

 Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah Comments on Future of Za’Darius Smith, Dalvin Cook

Amid questions surrounding the future of Smith and running back Dalvin Cook, Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah addressed his outlook on the Pro Bowlers remaining rostered in Minnesota.

“Again, conversations are always ongoing with [Cook],” Adof0-Mensah said. “We’re trying to be solutions-oriented and always trying to put the roster together within our constraints, and we’ll continue those conversations.

Since the end of the season, Smith has been cryptic on social media, deleting all team-related photos. He later put his Minnesota home up for sale before requesting a release in early March. Smith is slated to make $15.49 million next season, which ranks 14th among pass rushers. Only $5.05 million is guaranteed to the 31-year-old who led the league in sacks through the first eight weeks before he was hampered by injury the rest of the season.

The Vikings could be seeking a trade partner to cut loose one of their Pro Bowl pass rushers; Smith being the more favorable option to part ways with. If the Vikings release Smith, they would have to eat only $3.33 million in dead cap compared to $12.16 million in cap space saved, per Over The Cap.

Analyst Floats Idea of Trading Danielle Hunter, Not Smith

A possibility why the Vikings haven’t shed Cook or Smith is the dilemma of not finding a good deal for two players who are moving past their primes.

Pioneer Press columnist Charley Walters floated the possibility that Adofo-Mensah is still holding Smith, who doesn’t carry a significant dead cap hit if he is released, because there may be a possibility of trading Hunter instead, who could be a trade chip in moving up to find his quarterback of the future.

Even though they’re still on the roster, it’s clear the Vikings still want to trade Dalvin Cook and Za’Darius Smith, but haven’t received worthwhile offers. It makes no sense to bring Cook back after having signed Alexander Mattison to a two-year deal worth $7 million,” Walters wrote.

“It only makes sense to keep Smith if the Vikings intend to trade Danielle Hunter, who could help the team move up to draft a QB.”

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