The Vikings have a few pressing needs to focus on before they shift their attention to Danielle Hunter. Unfortunately for the organization, it doesn’t sound like the veteran pass rusher will be easy to retain. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the impending free agent is expected to have “a very strong market” this offseason.
With the Vikings eyeing an uphill battle following Kirk Cousins‘ season-ending injury, there were reports that the team took calls on Hunter leading up to the deadline. The organization rejected those inquiries, but Fowler notes that plenty of teams expressed interest, and those teams will surely be in the hunt again with Hunter hitting free agency.
Fowler throws out a handful of potential suitors. The Bears could look to pair a veteran opposite Montez Sweat, and the Jaguars could also be in the market (although they first have to figure out Josh Allen‘s future with the organization).
The Vikings will also make a push to keep their star defensive lineman. However, ESPN’s Dan Graziano notes that a new Hunter deal isn’t atop the front office’s list of priorities. Rather, the organization is naturally navigating Cousins’ impending free agency and their questionable future at the quarterback position. The organization can obviously juggle multiple negotiations at once, but the team would probably like some clarity on their QB salaries before committing big money elsewhere.
Hunter maxed out his incentive package this season, collecting an extra $3MM by reaching the 14-sack plateau. These bonuses were part of a recent restructure that saw the 29-year-old earn $17MM in guaranteed money this past season. More notably, that restructuring also prevents the Vikings from slapping Hunter with the franchise tag, meaning the nine-year veteran will be free to test the market.
The Vikings will also have to weight Hunter’s next contract with his impending dead cap charge. If Hunter ends up leaving Minnesota, the Vikings will be left with a $14.9MM dead-money charge. That isn’t a drop in the pan, and the Vikings front office may decide they’re willing to commit the extra money instead of being left with a hole on their depth chart and on their cap sheet.
The former third-round pick had one of the strongest seasons of his career in 2023. He finished this past season with a career-high 16.5 sacks and a league-leading 23 tackles for loss. Pro Football Focus graded Hunter 28th among 112 qualifying edge defenders, including a top-20 pass-rush grade.