The day before, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Vikings were fielding calls from numerous teams interested in dealing for Hunter, who is bound for free agency in 2024 should Minnesota fail to extend him before then. Reactions to the news varied across the NFL landscape and included a cryptic tweet from Smith.
Smith didn’t post a comment on the situation, opting instead to express his reaction to the development by simply tweeting the “👀” emoji.
Danielle Hunter Following Similar Path That Got Za’Darius Smith Traded by Vikings
What Smith meant exactly by his tweet is open to interpretation, though it would be more than a little surprising if the Vikings chose to move on from two Pro-Bowl edge rushers during the same offseason.
Smith asked out of Minnesota after just one year with the team, eventually getting his way when the franchise traded him to the Cleveland Browns in May. Hunter followed in Smith’s footsteps, not by demanding a trade, but by expressing his discontentedness with the franchise and his current deal by deleting all Vikings-related content from his Instagram account in April. Smith employed the same tactic in January.
Hunter doubled-down on his position for a new contract by skipping voluntary OTAs in May. He is entering the final year of a five-year, $72 million deal that will pay him just $5.5 million in total salary and bonuses in 2023.
Jacob Infante of Windy City Gridiron contended that the Vikings’ willingness to consider trading Hunter after releasing running back Dalvin Cook on Thursday indicates that Minnesota general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has conceded that his team can’t contend sustainably as constructed — citing the ongoing issues presented by yet again running out a good, but not great, starting quarterback in Kirk Cousins.
Tyler Forness of USA Today’s Vikings Wire went further, saying that if Vikings brass lets Hunter get away, it would signify the front office’s “first failure” under Adofo-Mensah’s leadership.
Dalvin Cook Release Makes Re-Signing Danielle Hunter More Feasible for Vikings
Bringing Hunter back to Minnesota long-term became much more feasible on Thursday, following the team’s decision to part ways with its four-time Pro-Bowl running back.
The move opens up $9 million on the Vikings’ salary cap sheet, bumping their available funds to more than $18 million in 2023. Scratching Hunter’s salary from the books this year and replacing it with a new deal will allow the front office a considerable amount of flexibility with the cap, depending on how the team ultimately structures the deal.
In short, after cutting Cook the Vikings have more than enough money and options to bring Hunter back on a multiyear deal. Should they choose not to do so, the conversation becomes decidedly different.
Hunter made the third Pro Bowl of his career in 2022 on the strength of 10.5 sacks and 34 quarterback pressures, per Pro Football Reference. He will turn 29 years old in the middle of the upcoming season and while he suffered a torn pectoral in 2021 following a neck issue that cost him all of 2020, Hunter has proven his ability to bounce back from injury and play at a high level.
Should the Vikings trade Hunter, they will need to find a way to replace the total of 20.5 sacks and 71 quarterback pressures for which he and Smith combined last season.