Vikings Projected to Replace $17 Million Pro Bowler With 1st-Round Pick

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Minnesota Vikings

Getty General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah of the Minnesota Vikings.

Minnesota Vikings edge rusher Danielle Hunter leads the team with 15.5 sacks this season, fourth-most in the NFL. But he turns 30 years old early next season and is a free agent this offseason.

He could fetch a pretty penny on the open market. The Vikings project to have $39.3 million to spend before any other moves, per Spotrac.

But the situation could be ripe for a reset.

“The Vikings’ defense has been an awesome surprise under Brian Flores … though they stand to lose top pass-rusher Danielle Hunter in free agency,” wrote PJ Moran of FantasyPros on January 2. “Dallas Turner won’t step right onto a pro field and post a 15-sack campaign like Hunter … but he’s a similar mold of a relentless hunter (pun intended) flying off the edge.”

Hunter, a three-time Pro Bowler, signed a one-year, $17 million contract to return to the team that drafted him (No. 88 overall in 2015) this past offseason.

Turner, listed at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, set a career-high with 10.0 sacks this season.

It was a solid bounce back from a disappointing 2022. Turner dropped from 8.5 sacks to 4.0 from his freshman to sophomore seasons. Turner recorded a sack in each of the Alabama Crimson Tide’s final three games.

That includes their loss to Michigan in the College Football Playoffs Semifinal, after which Turner – a one-time All-American and the 2023 SEC Defensive Player of the Year – unequivocally announced his intention to enter the 2024 draft.

“I’m gone,” Turner said, per Alex Scarbrough of ESPN on January 1. “Ain’t no if, ands or buts about it.”

Vikings Need to Improve Pass Rush

Danielle Hunter, DJ Wonnum

GettyDanielle Hunter #99 and D.J. Wonnum #98 of the Minnesota Vikings.

Even if the Vikings can bring back Hunter, he will need help. Injured pass rusher Marcus Davenport is also a free agent after the season. After failing to live up to the $13 million contract he signed last offseason, he might not return next season.

Davenport had 2.0 sacks this season before succumbing to injury.

The emerging DJ Wonnum – 8.0 sacks this season – will be coming off major knee surgery next season after getting injured in Week 15.

Harrison Smith and Harrison Phillips are tied for third on the team with 3.0 sacks apiece. That underscores the need for more juice off the edge. They are tied for ninth in sacks as a team. That is in part because of Flores’ scheme which is feast-or-famine in terms of sending pressure.

Analyst Projects Vikings to Draft Oregon’s Bo Nix

Bo Nix, Minnesota Vikings

GettyQuarterback Bo Nix #10 of the Oregon Ducks.

The way the Vikings’ quarterbacks outside of Kirk Cousins have performed this season – 64.7% completion, 10 touchdowns to 12 interceptions – passing on a quarterback with their first-round pick could be a risky endeavor.

That is if one falls to them in that slot.

They just miss out on Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy in Moran’s mock draft. But they do address the position in the second round, selecting Oregon’s Bo Nix, a 2023 Heisman Finalist.

A fifth-year, senior, the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Nix completed 77.4% of his passes for 4,508 yards, 45 touchdowns, and just three interceptions this season. He had 363 yards and five touchdowns through the air in Oregon’s Fiesta Bowl win over Liberty on January 1.

Cousins’ return is still a possibility next season. Adding an experienced project like Nix could make for a smooth transition when the time comes.