Tension is mounting between the Minnesota Vikings and Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter over his potential holdout next week.
Hunter hadn’t skipped out voluntary OTAs once in his career until this offseason amid the rumors surrounding his unhappiness with his current contract with the team. But if Hunter is absent for mandatory three-day minicamps starting June 15, the Vikings could hit him with a series of fines and escalate his contract dispute with Minnesota.
Former NFL agent and CBS Sports analyst Joel Corry weighed in on Hunter’s situation and blasted the 26-year-old, saying there is no one to blame for his unhappiness other than himself.
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‘Hunter Has No One to Blame But Himself’
The crux of Corry’s breakdown of Hunter’s situation comes down to a mistake the then 23-year-old Hunter made by signing a five-year, $72 million contract back in 2018.
He had committed himself to an average $14.4 million annual salary for the next five years that surely would be phased out as other pass rushers in the league reached new contracts. Hunter had 19.5 sacks in the previous two seasons before signing his current contract — on-par with Denver Broncos edge rusher Von Miller, who reached 23.5 sacks and made $19.5 million a year at the time.
Instead, Corry suggested Hunter should have played out the final year of his rookie deal, opening himself up to a franchise tag season and playing a much higher market in 2019.
Here’s Corry’s analysis of the situation:
Hunter has no one to blame but himself for his dissatisfaction with his contract. He did himself a big disservice in June 2018 by signing a five-year, $72 million contract extension averaging $14.4 million per year with $40.007 million of guarantees…
Sometimes the best deal is the one you don’t make. This old saying is applicable in Hunter’s case. It should have been extremely obvious to Hunter that he was going to be significantly underpaid pretty quickly. Since interior defensive lineman Aaron Donald and edge rusher Khalil Mack were in contract years, it was well known within industry circles that the $20 million-per-year non-quarterback was on the horizon. Donald and Mack signed for $22.5 million per year and $23.5 million per year with the Rams and Bears, respectively, a little more than two months after Hunter got his extension.
Hunter would have been facing a 2019 franchise tag for $17.128 million by merely continuing his performance from the previous two seasons, which he easily exceeded in 2018. His 14.5 sacks were tied for fourth in the NFL. Hunter would have been in a position to join the $20 million-per-year non-quarterback club after a career year while playing out his rookie contract.
To make matters worse, Hunter compounded his error by signing a lengthy below-market extension as a 23-year-old ascending player. Hunter’s contract runs through the 2023 season. He is scheduled to make $12.75 million in each of the remaining three years of his deal. Had Hunter done a three-year extension in the same $14.4 million-per-year neighborhood, his contract mistake would have been minimized. 2021 would have been his contract year.
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How a Deal Can Be Reached
Hunter presents a risk coming off surgery for a non-contact neck injury. However, he was underpaid after producing the second-most sacks (29) in the league from 2018 to 2019.
Hunter’s contract guaranteed $40 million at the time and the reservoirs are running dry with roughly $15 million guaranteed, per Over the Cap, over the next three years of the deal. Minnesota could sweeten his contract by restructuring some of his future annual salaries into signing bonuses that would offer Hunter motivation and security before reentering negotiations for a future deal.
Teams rarely renegotiate contracts with three-plus years remaining, but the Vikings have precedence after Adam Thielen’s contract was extended with two years remaining in 2019. Corry believes next season could be Hunter’s saving grace of getting paid with the opportunity that he can reassert himself as one of the league’s most elite pass rushers this season.
“Thielen had clearly outperformed the four-year deal he signed in 2017 as a restricted free agent. He got a new contract with two years remaining, which would be 2022 for Hunter. My experience as an agent was that teams tried to avoid establishing new contract precedents at almost all costs,” Corry wrote. “Giving Hunter a new contract with three years left would be something the Vikings aren’t accustomed to doing. Hunter might be better off in the long run if a true renegotiation occurs next offseason provided he regains some semblance of the form he displayed prior to the neck injury.”
If Hunter commits to a holdout come June 15, he could face up to $100,000 in team fines for missing minicamps after already missing out on a $100,000 workout bonus by skipping OTAs. He’ll be required to pay $50,000 under the new collective bargaining agreement for each day Hunter is absent from training camp. Minnesota could also start recovering some of Hunter’s $15 million signing bonus if the training camp holdout lasts at least six days, Corry said.
The Vikings have all the leverage, but whether they apply the pressure on Hunter and hit him with discretionary fines could have a lasting impact on the relationship with the team’s most important player on defense.