Danielle Hunter

Colts Resume Julian Blackmon Talks; Team Offered Danielle Hunter More Than Texans

Operating as a retention-based GM who has shied away from big free agency pickups during his eight-year tenure, Chris Ballard continued work in this area this offseason. The Colts extended Michael Pittman Jr. and re-signed Kenny Moore, Grover Stewart and Tyquan Lewis.

Indianapolis, however, still wants more help in the secondary. Moore has worked as the team’s slot cornerback for seven years, and while his new deal takes care of that need, the Colts could use assistance on the outside and at safety. Ballard confirmed the team is looking to add in the secondary, confirming (via the Indianapolis Star’s Nate Atkins) they are considering more options in free agency. One of them, in Colts fashion, is a player whose Indianapolis rookie deal just expired.

Ballard confirmed (via ESPN’s Stephen Holder) the Colts have reengaged in talks with Julian Blackmon. The four-year starter had visited the Bills and 49ers but has not landed a deal. A Colts reunion has been in play for a bit, and considering the retention the team has already gone through with on Gus Bradley‘s defense, a second Blackmon contract would not surprise.

It is certainly possible Blackmon’s asking price led the Bills to sign Mike Edwards, who began last season as a Chiefs backup before moving into the lineup due to a Bryan Cook injury. Indianapolis had targeted Edwards as well.

The Colts used Blackmon at different spots in Bradley’s scheme, and the former third-round pick will not turn 26 until just before the season. He notched career-high marks in INTs (four), tackles (88) and passes defensed (eight) last season, but this year’s safety market — beyond Xavier McKinney — stalled due to an unexpected surplus that formed in free agency just before the new league year.

One of the few players among PFR’s top 50 free agents who has not landed a deal, Blackmon has likely been impacted by the crowded market. A few teams released high-profile safeties, leaving the likes of Justin Simmons, Micah Hyde, Quandre Diggs, Jamal Adams, Eddie Jackson and Marcus Maye unsigned. It is possible Blackmon could take a one-year deal in hopes of reestablishing his value. Nick Cross has been unable to establish himself as a starter, while Pro Football Focus rated Blackmon sidekick Rodney Thomas 78th at the position last season.

Their largely in-house offseason mission notwithstanding, the Colts did pursue Danielle Hunter. The Texas native chose Houston, but Holder adds Indianapolis offered more money. That said, it would be a bit surprising if the Colts’ proposal included more guaranteed money than Hunter received. The Texans gave the longtime Vikings edge rusher a $49MM deal that came nearly fully guaranteed; the 10th-year vet locked in $48MM at signing.

The Colts saw improvement from homegrown rushers Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo last season; the 2021 first- and second-round picks, respectively, totaled 8.5 and eight sacks in 2023. Samson Ebukam, who came over from the 49ers last year, led the team with 9.5 sacks. Hunter would have been an interesting addition capable of creating a formidable top four for Indy, but he has a clear-cut opportunity to start opposite Defensive Rookie of the Year Will Anderson Jr. in Houston.

Falcons Were Interested In Top Defensive FAs; More On Kirk Cousins’ Decision

On the day before the 2024 league year opened, the Falcons agreed to a four-year, $180MM deal with former Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, a deal that will pay the 35-year-old passer (36 in August) $50MM in guaranteed money. Even if Atlanta had not signed Cousins, the club was still prepared to make a major free agent splash.

Albert Breer of SI.com, in a piece that is well-worth a read for fans of the Falcons and Vikings in particular, explores in considerable detail how Cousins came to sign with Atlanta, beginning with the February 2022 meeting between the quarterback, his agent, and Minnesota head coach Kevin O’Connell, whom the Vikes had just hired. While most of Breer’s writing focuses on the discussions, both football and contractual, between Cousins’ camp and Vikings brass and then between Cousins’ camp and Falcons brass, he does note that Atlanta had interest in top defensive free agents Danielle Hunter — another long-time member of the Vikings — and Christian Wilkins.

Per Breer, if the Falcons had not been successful in their pursuit of Cousins or another high-priced FA signal-caller like Baker Mayfield, they would have spent their money on defense, with Hunter and Wilkins named as potential targets. Mayfield had agreed to a new contract with the Bucs while Cousins was still in limbo, so Atlanta GM Terry Fontenot spoke with the agents for Hunter and Wilkins in case he would have to address his QB position via a trade for a player like Justin Fields or via the draft. He was told that both players would fetch at least $25MM per year, which turned out to be pretty accurate. Fontenot also explored the possibility of trading up into the top-three of the draft to land a blue-chip collegiate quarterback, though the teams holding those selections (the Bears, Commanders, and Patriots) were not interested in dealing, at least not that early in the process.

Ultimately, Cousins chose to sign with the Falcons, and Atlanta subsequently bolstered his pass-catching contingent by authorizing a notable contract for wide receiver Darnell Mooney and sending displaced quarterback Desmond Ridder to the Cardinals in exchange for slot man Rondale Moore. Without a high-end QB contract on their books, it was the Vikings who pivoted to the defensive side of the ball, adding Jonathan Greenard, Andrew Van Ginkel, and Blake Cashman in quick succession while bidding farewell to Hunter.

Shortly after Cousins decided to make the move to Atlanta, he said the team simply seemed more prepared than Minnesota to commit to him on a long-term basis. Indeed, Breer reports that while the Vikings did improve their offer to Cousins as negotiations went on by putting more guaranteed money on the table, it was the structure of those guarantees that swung the pendulum in the Falcons’ favor. The Vikings’ proposals always gave them the ability to part ways with Cousins in 2025 without many financial ramifications, and Cousins ultimately felt he was being viewed as a bridge to a passer that the team would select in next month’s draft.

The Falcons’ deal, on the other hand, guarantees all of Cousins’ 2025 base salary of $27.5MM, effectively tethering player and team to each other for the next two seasons. Atlanta can realistically get out of the deal in 2026, at which point Cousins’ cap number skyrockets to $57.5MM. Still, he will at least have an NFL home beyond the upcoming campaign, which was clearly a top priority for him.

Having devoted so many resources to their offense, Fontenot & Co. will have to turn their attention to the draft to address a defense that finished 24th in DVOA and 21st in sacks in 2023. To that end, the team has scheduled a predraft visit with Alabama edge defender Dallas Turner, as Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reports. The Vikings and Bears will also visit with Turner, who could be the first defensive player off the board.

Danielle Hunter To Sign With Texans

The Texans’ talks with Danielle Hunter will produce an agreement, according to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport. After the Vikings poached Jonathan Greenard, the Texans will bring in the longtime Minnesota sack artist. Hunter will join the Texans on a two-year deal worth $49MM, Rapoport adds.

Although Hunter ran into significant injury trouble to start this decade, he bounced back in a big way over the past two years. That recent surge will allow for a uniquely structured Texans contract. Houston is guaranteeing nearly the whole contract, with Schefter adding the nine-year veteran will receive $48MM fully guaranteed.

The Colts also pursued Hunter, but they are not known for big spending on outside FAs under Chris Ballard. The Texans’ payroll also lines up well with this two-year Hunter guarantee. Hunter will receive $29.5MM in the first year of this deal, Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News tweets.

This marks a homecoming for Hunter, who went to high school in the Houston area. Hunter spent the past six seasons tied to a contract that was widely viewed as Vikings-friendly in the moment. After two reworkings, the former third-round pick made his way to free agency. The second of those adjustments prevented the Vikings from franchise-tagging Hunter, which will lead him out of town. While the Vikes will lean on Greenard, the Texans will pair reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Will Anderson with a more established sack ace.

While Greenard notched his first double-digit sack season last year, Hunter has five such seasons on his resume. Despite Hunter entering the NFL in 2015, he is still just 29. The youngest player in league history to reach 50 sacks, Hunter was a mainstay during Mike Zimmer‘s Minnesota years and played the lead role in the past two Vikings pass rushes.

This included a 16.5-sack performance last year, which also featured Hunter leading the NFL with 23 tackles for loss. That generated trade interest, and while the Texans were not pursuing Hunter at the time, they will come away with one of this year’s top free agents today.

Tied to a $14MM-per-year deal for an extended period — albeit with multiple adjustments, coming in 2021 and 2023 — Hunter will do well on this short-term agreement. The Texans will also take advantage of their setup. Last year, the team effectively had low- or mid-level deals across its roster save for along the offensive line. With Anderson and C.J. Stroud on rookie deals through at least 2025, Houston will capitalize. Hunter’s contract will overlap fully with the Anderson and Stroud rookie accords. He will join Azeez Al-Shaair and Denico Autry as new starters on DeMeco Ryans‘ defense.

Mutual Interest Between Texans, Danielle Hunter; Colts In Pursuit

3:41pm: The Colts are also in the Hunter market, according to ESPN.com’s Stephen Holder. Not known for big-ticket spending on outside FAs, Indy also saw progress from homegrown DEs Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo last season. Samson Ebukam remains under contract as well. But the team, which did once add Justin Houston in free agency, is looking into what it will cost to bring Hunter to Indianapolis.

2:11pm: The Texans may be eyeing what would amount to an edge rusher swap with the Vikings. After Jonathan Greenard committed to Minnesota early in the legal tampering period, Houston is eyeing the player Greenard is likely set to replace.

Mutual interest exists between the Texans and Danielle Hunter, KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson reports. While no signing is imminent, the Texans have lost a key starter. Greenard led Houston with 12.5 sacks last season, providing a quality bookend for Will Anderson. Although Chase Young is available, Hunter has a more extensive track record of sack production.

This is Hunter’s first run in free agency. The youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 sacks, Hunter soon signed what became a team-friendly Vikings extension. That 2018 agreement became a source of tension for Hunter, and the Vikings reached multiple reworkings with their impact sack artist. While injuries interrupted Hunter during the early part of this decade, he has returned to form over the past two seasons. That included a 16.5-sack 2023.

Hunter, 29, led the NFL with 23 tackles for loss last season. He drew trade interest at the deadline, though with Greenard on the team at that point, the Texans were not on the radar. With Greenard heading to the Twin Cities and Bryce Huff (Eagles), Leonard Floyd (49ers), Za’Darius Smith (Browns) and Dorance Armstrong (Cowboys) committed elsewhere, Texans interest in Hunter adds up. With a rookie QB contract on the books, Houston has a chance to add a big name opposite Anderson. But options are dwindling.

The Texans have not waded into the deep waters of this year’s market, despite the opportunity Stroud and Anderson’s rookie contracts present. They have agreed to terms with Denico Autry and Azeez Al-Shaair on midlevel deals, however, bolstering DeMeco Ryans‘ defense. Hunter would act as a bigger needle-moving presence, having reeled off five double-digit sack seasons in his prolific nine-year Vikings run. An outside linebacker over the past two years, Hunter also spent six seasons as a 4-3 defensive end in Mike Zimmer‘s scheme.

Vikings Trying To Re-Sign OLB Danielle Hunter

The Vikings have a lot of different priorities to focus on this offseason with both quarterback Kirk Cousins and wide receiver Justin Jefferson hoping for new contracts, but that hasn’t stopped them from discussing another possible deal that they’d like to see done. According to ESPN’s Dan Graziano, Minnesota is making an effort to re-sign veteran pass rusher Danielle Hunter, as well.

Hunter has been a Viking since the team selected him in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Heading into the final year of his rookie contract, the Vikings signed him to a five-year, $72 million extension. When that extension expired, Minnesota opted to keep him around for at least one more season on a one-year, $17MM deal. Having once more played through his contract, Hunter’s future with the Vikings will again be in question.

Hunter is expected to be a top target for many teams if he’s allowed to reach free agency, and for good reason. In his nine-year career, Hunter has reached double-digit sack numbers in five different seasons. He was twice racked up 14.5 sacks and reached a career-high this year with an impressive 16.5. His disruptive nature doesn’t stop there, though, as he led the NFL this season with a career-high 23 tackles for loss, as well.

The only potential detriment to Hunter’s negotiating stance is his past health issues. Hunter missed the entire 2020 NFL season with a neck injury and followed that up with only seven games in 2021. Now, the 2021 injury was completely unrelated to his prior season-long absence. In fact, when Hunter returned to the field after missing the 2020 season, he was off to a blazing start, racking up six sacks in only seven games. A torn pectoral muscle would put an end to that comeback campaign and force him back to injured reserve.

Since coming back from his second stay on IR, Hunter has shown no ill effects from his prior injuries. In the two seasons since, Hunter has started every game possible, accumulating 27.0 total sacks, 35 tackles for loss, and 44 quarterback hits. Not only have his injuries not slowed him down, he seems to have gotten better.

With Hunter showing no signs of stopping as he gets closer to 30 years old, he’s expected to fetch quite a price tag in free agency. As perhaps the top pass rusher on the market, multiple teams are expected to vie for his signature. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler volunteers that a price tag north of $20MM per year should be expected. The Vikings will need to focus a lot of efforts towards Cousins and Jefferson, but make no mistake, lots of attention and capital will need to be directed in Hunter’s direction, as well, if they have any hopes of retaining his talents.

Latest On Vikings’ Edge Rush Situation

With a Kirk Cousins free agency spell looming, the Vikings are among the teams to watch over the coming days and weeks. Minnesota’s defense faces a number of question marks as well, though, particularly in the edge rush department.

Danielle Hunter is also on track for free agency, and he could command a lucrative market. After agreeing to a fully-guaranteed one-year Vikings pact last offseason, Hunter enjoyed a healthy and productive campaign. He set a new career high in sacks with 16.5, earning him a fourth Pro Bowl invite. Minnesota’s direction with respect to retaining Hunter will of course depend in large part on what happens with Cousins, but Minnesota has another pass rusher to consider re-signing.

D.J. Wonnum is set to see his rookie contract expire, but his performances when given a starting role could help his market value. Adam Caplan of Pro Football Network reports Wonnum could be an under-the-radar free agent, and he could be worth watching as an element of Minnesota’s offseason plans. Caplan notes the Vikings should be expected to pursue a new deal with at least one of Hunter or Wonnum.

The latter matched his career high with eight sacks in 2023, having posted the same total when he handled first-team duties in 2021. Wonnum, 26, recorded 62 tackles, 15 QB hits and 21 pressures. The former fourth-rounder is thus in line for a notable raise on his second contract, whether that comes from the Vikings or a team better positioned to make a lucrative long-term commitment.

Fellow edge rusher Marcus Davenport was set to have his contract void today, falling in line with a number of other players around the NFL in that regard. However, the void date on Davenport’s pact has now been moved to March 13 (lining it up with Cousins and Hunter), per ESPN’s Kevin Seifert. Instead of creating a dead money charge for 2024 today, Davenport and the Vikings will now have more time to negotiate a deal.

The former Saints first-rounder came to Minnesota last offseason on a one-year deal worth $10MM guaranteed. Four void years were included in the deal, though, and Davenport is set to carry a $6.8MM cap hit in 2024 even if he departs. An ankle injury limited him to just four games in his debut Vikings season. Whether he is retained alongside one or both of Hunter and Wonnum or replaced with a new group of edge rushers will be an intriguing storyline for the team.

Latest On Danielle Hunter’s Impending Free Agency

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.

NFC North Notes: Bears, CJGJ, Vikings

The last time an NFL team used a franchise tag on a cornerback, the Bears were planning a Jay Cutler-to-Mike Glennon QB transition. Occurring back in 2017, Rams’ second Trumaine Johnson tag remains the most recent instance of a team tagging a corner. Mentioned as a possibility here when the Bears let Jaylon Johnson seek a trade, the contract-year defender being tagged adds up now that Montez Sweat is locked down via an extension. The Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs views it as likely the Bears tag Johnson to give them more time to work out an extension.

Receiving his first Pro Bowl invite this week, Johnson has put together a quality contract season — one he acknowledges has made him more money on his second contract. Johnson said in June he wanted that second accord to be with the Bears and reiterated that stance last month. Although the prospect of reaching free agency would understandably appeal to the former second-round pick, the Bears — the most recent team to use any tag on a cornerback, transition-tagging Kyle Fuller in 2018 — can keep Johnson in the fold via a one-year rental or attempt to hammer out an extension by the July deadline. The cornerback tag is expected to cost just more than $18MM.

Here is the latest from the NFC North:

  • The Bears’ plan to move Cody Whitehair back to center did not take off. Snapping issues plagued the veteran, while Pro Football Focus rates 2022 free agency pickup Lucas Patrick 31st among centers this season. Chicago is expected to pursue a center upgrade this year, Biggs notes, with The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain also predicting the team will aim to stabilize this spot (subscription required). Whitehair, 30, profiles as a cut candidate; he is due a nonguaranteed $10.15MM base salary in his 2024 contract year. Patrick has one game left on a two-year, $8MM deal. The Bears have some wiggle room here, with three starting O-linemen — Braxton Jones, Teven Jenkins, Darnell Wright — on rookie contracts. A handful of teams re-signed centers in 2023, but four-year starters Tyler Biadasz (Cowboys) and Lloyd Cushenberry (Broncos) are two months from free agency. Three-year Raiders center Andre James is as well.
  • C.J. Gardner-Johnson‘s return from a torn pec will give the Lions an unexpected boost for their playoff journey. It also could disrupt the team’s secondary. Ifeatu Melifonwu has been effective since usurping Tracy Walker as a starter alongside Kerby Joseph. The Lions initially stationed Gardner-Johnson in the slot, where he previously played under ex-Saints DBs coach Aaron Glenn, but the Lions DC moved him back to safety to accommodate rookie Brian Branch. Glenn said (via the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett) the team is still determining its DB plan but confirmed Branch will remain the team’s slot corner. A safety rotation, then, seems likely to commence. Designated for return from IR last week, Gardner-Johnson is expected to return in Week 18.
  • Danielle Hunter maxed out his incentive package this season, with the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling noting the contract-year Vikings defender collected $3MM by reaching the 14-sack plateau. Positioning himself to do well as a first-time free agent, Hunter has registered a career-high 15.5 sacks. On what could be his final Vikings restructure, the 29-year-old edge rusher received $17MM guaranteed and added $3MM in incentives this season. This latest reworking prevents Hunter from being tagged this year, and the Vikings would be hit with a $14.9MM dead-money charge if they cannot re-sign their top sack artist the 2024 league year.
  • In the strange position of seeing both its top free agents-to-be — Hunter and Kirk Cousins — not profile as tag candidates (due to Cousins having already been tagged twice by Washington), Minnesota has big decisions to make soon. Cousins is at least ahead of schedule on his Achilles rehab odyssey, Goessling adds. Cousins, 35, should be expected back for training camp at the latest and has expressed continued interest in another Vikings contract. If the Vikings cannot re-sign Cousins by March 13 — the last day of the 2023 league year — they will face a $28.5MM dead-money total due to the void years in the leverage maven’s contract.

Vikings Not Expected To Trade Danielle Hunter

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.

[RELATED: Jaguars Moved Close To Landing Hunter In Offseason]

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.

Teams Calling Vikings On Danielle Hunter

OCTOBER 29: Rapoport and colleague Tom Pelissero report teams continue to inquire about Hunter as the trade deadline draws nearer. As they note, though, it would require a “huge offer” for a trade to be given serious consideration despite his status as a pending free agent. Minnesota won on Sunday to reach 4-4 on the season, meaning the team’s stance as presumed sellers could still hang in the balance depending on how aggressive suitors become in their efforts to add Hunter.

OCTOBER 23: Danielle Hunter interest is gaining steam. After a Friday report indicated teams were monitoring the veteran Vikings edge rusher in potential trades, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports calls are coming in.

The Vikings have indeed taken calls from interested teams, with Rapoport indicating the NFC North club is prepared to listen as the trade deadline (3pm CT, Oct. 31) nears. Hunter is in the final year of his contract, one the Vikings again adjusted this offseason. No substantial offer has come in just yet, per The Athletic’s Dianna Russini (subscription required), but that might change over the next week.

Despite Myles Garrett‘s dominant performance in Indianapolis, Hunter still entered Monday night leading the NFL in sacks (eight) and tackles for loss (11). The youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 sacks, Hunter is only in his age-29 season; the 2015 third-round pick will turn 29 this week. The combination of production and age should give the Vikings a prime trade chip, should they choose to cash it in.

Minnesota almost definitely will not be trading Kirk Cousins. While the sixth-year Vikings passer is in a contract year and cannot realistically be franchise-tagged in 2024, high-profile QB trades rarely happen in-season. Cousins, 35, can block any trade due to the no-trade clause included in his 2022 extension agreement. The prospect of relocating and learning a new offense on the fly would stand to be counterproductive for the savvy veteran, who has done extraordinarily well in maximizing his leverage and scoring monster contracts over the course of his career.

The Vikings are also not ready to close up shop on this season, which would put Hunter’s status as a trade chip in question. Minnesota moving Hunter now would gut its pass rush, as Marcus Davenport is on IR and has not ruled out surgery to address his high ankle sprain. The Vikings dealt Za’Darius Smith, after weeks of trade/release rumors, to the Browns in May and did engage in conversations about Hunter while dealing with his contract. The $14MM-per-year deal Hunter agreed to in 2018 was viewed as a team-friendly pact at the time, and it has frequently come up over the past five years. The Vikings reached a resolution with Hunter, guaranteeing him $17MM. With that reworking leaving a $10MM base salary, an acquiring team would only be on the hook for barely $5MM — if the Vikings trade him after their Week 8 game.

Hunter, who has four double-digit sack seasons on his resume, stopped short of confirming he was interested in another long-term Vikes pact when addressing his adjustment this offseason. But the Pro Bowl edge has called the Vikings “a great organization.” The Vikes, however, have big-picture questions to address on the edge. Hunter, Davenport and rotational backup D.J. Wonnum are free agents after this season. The summer contract adjustment also prevents the Vikings from franchise-tagging Hunter, making Minnesota the rare team that cannot use its tag on its top two free agents-to-be. The Vikings not re-signing Hunter before the 2024 league year would also result in a lofty void years-driven cap hit ($14.9MM). Minnesota took a dead-money hit this year after not re-signing Dalvin Tomlinson.

With Hunter likely planning to test the open market for the first time come March, the Vikings will be put to a fascinating decision over the next week. Holding a lead on the 49ers early in Monday night’s game, the team could find itself in the thick of the NFC playoff mix soon. Then again, Minnesota has Justin Jefferson on IR, which will make matters more difficult for Cousins and Co. Hunter might be the biggest defensive trade chip ahead of this year’s deadline, and it will be on GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to determine if an offer is viable enough to wound this year’s team in exchange for quality draft capital.