The Vikings reside in an interesting position. They have rallied from 0-3 to 4-4, beating the Packers in Green Bay to reach .500. But Kirk Cousins is now out for the season, putting Minnesota’s playoff viability in serious doubt.
After the slow start, rumors picked up about the Vikings selling. The team has taken calls on Danielle Hunter, who has generated steady trade interest. The Cousins injury could conceivably prompt the Vikings to consider cashing in their top trade chip, but ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler reports there is virtually “no chance” Hunter is moved by this afternoon’s deadline.
Minnesota came into this season in a historically unusual position. With Cousins having been franchise-tagged twice, his 2024 tender would come in north of $52MM. That would obviously be untenable for the Vikings, with no team having tagged a player for a third time since the 2006 CBA introduced language making that prohibitive. The Vikings’ August agreement with Hunter also prevents a 2024 franchise or transition tag. This effectively means the Vikings cannot tag their top two free agents-to-be, putting them in a strange position. That said, moving Hunter would wound a Vikings pass rush that is without Marcus Davenport for the foreseeable future; Davenport is on IR with a high ankle sprain.
Hunter, 29, is on pace for his best season as a pro. After he notched a sack in Week 8, the ninth-year edge defender has an NFL-most 10 on the season. Hunter’s return to full strength — after two injury-marred seasons — in 2022 involved 10.5 sacks. The former Mike Zimmer-era mainstay is on pace to eclipse his career-high mark (14.5, established in 2018 and ’19), and this latest development looks to ensure he will make that push in the Twin Cities.
A logical case can be made to deal Hunter, especially if the Vikings do not acquire another quarterback capable of starting. The team could sink in the standings without Cousins (and Justin Jefferson, who has no reason to rush his recovery from a hamstring injury), and a Hunter trade could provide more ammo to secure a QB heir apparent. Another Cousins-Vikings agreement should not be ruled out, and the 35-year-old passer’s market could certainly be affected by his first notable NFL injury. As of now, Cousins and Hunter will be on track to hit the market in March.
In addition to the Jaguars pursuing Hunter during the offseason, the Bears also contacted the Vikings about a player Minnesota was then considering as a trade piece, ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano tweets. An intra-divisional trade would have been highly unlikely, but GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah did make notable draft-slot trades with the Lions and Packers during his first draft in charge. Then again, draft-slot deals and exchanging high-profile veterans are different matters. The Bears have since made their move for a potential long-term piece, acquiring Montez Sweat from the Commanders for a second-round pick.
Considering what it took for the Commanders to move Sweat — a 2024 second-rounder — SI.com’s Albert Breer adds the Vikings are not believed to be interested in anything less than a top-60 choice for their contract-year pass rusher. The fact that Hunter cannot be tagged in 2024 also stands to dent his trade value, however, further pointing to the three-time Pro Bowler staying in Minnesota.