After reworking his contract, Danielle Hunter reported for the Vikings’ minicamp this week. The accomplished pass rusher did not participate, but he is confident he will be ready for the upcoming season.
Hunter acknowledged he is not yet in football shape, but regarding the neck injury that derailed his 2020 season, the seventh-year defensive end categorized himself as “100%,” via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Hunter passed his physical and looked “fantastic,” Mike Zimmer said.
A herniated disk required Hunter to undergo season-ending neck surgery last year. This certainly complicated his pursuit of a new contract, and Hunter did skip Vikings OTAs because of an issue with his deal. The Vikings moved some money up to appease their top sack artist, converting $5.6MM of $12.2MM 2021 base salary into a signing bonus. This created a bit of cap room and could benefit Hunter in 2022.
The Vikings picking up Hunter’s new $18MM roster bonus — due on Day 5 of the ’22 league year — would bump his 2022 earnings by around $8MM, increasing his base salary to around $20MM. That is a rather high number, even with the salary cap likely to eclipse $200MM, and it would make sense for the Vikings to give Hunter a new deal before that point — if they see him return to form this season. Hunter’s five-year, $72MM extension runs through 2023.
In each of the two seasons following the extension agreement, Hunter notched 14.5 sacks. In December 2019, Hunter became the youngest to 50 career sacks — topping Robert Quinn — and made his second straight Pro Bowl. Without him and several other veterans in 2020, the Vikings plummeted from fifth to 29th in points allowed. With Hunter, 26, and Anthony Barr due back from injury, along with the new Michael Pierce–Dalvin Tomlinson–Sheldon Richardson interior D-line trio, Minnesota’s defense figures to improve this season.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.