The Vikings exited the draft with both Dalvin Cook and Za’Darius Smith in uncertain territory regarding their Minnesota futures. After trading Smith, the Vikings look to have another impact player in this boat.
Teams have called the Vikes on veteran pass rusher Danielle Hunter, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (video link). The trade interest that has formed for Hunter is “pretty serious,” per Rapoport. Hunter’s contract has come up many times since the Vikings extended him back in 2018; one year remains on the deal. Hunter opted to skip voluntary Vikes activities this offseason.
Hunter trade talks took place before a March 2022 roster bonus became due, but the Vikings stood down and paired their longtime edge defender with Smith. The team has since signed Marcus Davenport, who looks to be Smith’s replacement. It would be harder to replace Hunter, seeing as the draft has come and gone. But a number of starter-level edges are available, even after Leonard Floyd‘s Bills deal.
The regime that authorized the Hunter extension is no longer in power, and GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has not been shy about making sweeping changes this offseason. The second-year GM held onto Smith for months, despite persistent trade and release rumors, and unloaded him in a late-round pick-swap deal with the Browns. Health has also been an issue for Hunter, though he has produced in big spots for the Vikings over the course of his career.
During the 2018 offseason, Hunter signed a deal that was viewed as a team-friendly pact at the time. When Hunter has been on the field, he has outplayed that five-year, $72MM accord. Becoming the youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 sacks, Hunter helped the 2019 Vikings edition to the divisional round. But he missed most of the next two seasons, seeing a neck injury sideline him for all of the 2020 campaign and a torn pec end his ’21 slate after seven games. But Hunter re-emerged as an upper-echelon pass rusher last season, playing all 17 games and registering 10.5 sacks. The three-time Pro Bowler’s 22 QB hits matched a career-high mark as well.
The Vikings have reworked Hunter’s contract on three occasions. The second of those — a June 2021 restructure — moved $5.6MM into a signing bonus and created the $18MM roster bonus that was due in March 2022. The Adofo-Mensah-led front office converted that $18MM roster bonus into a signing bonus, spreading out Hunter’s cap hit through void years. Hunter is only tied to a $4.9MM base salary, attracting interest from teams.
Hunter being disgruntled about his deal has invited the calls, though Rapoport adds the Vikings have attempted to come up with a solution that better compensates their top pass rusher for this season. Despite Hunter going into his ninth season, he is just 28. The early-2020s injuries aside, the former third-round pick has posted four double-digit sack seasons. Hunter would stand to fetch the Vikings more in a trade than Smith did, but the team’s pass rush would also be weakened. The Vikings could save $5.5MM against this year’s cap by trading Hunter.
Minnesota did not draft an edge player this year and has Davenport signed for just one season, with void years present in the ex-Saint’s deal as well. The team will need a resolution regarding Hunter soon, but its mid-2020s edge defender plans are up in the air.