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A New Contract for Danielle Hunter?

Let’s talk about the Vikings’ biggest off-season story

Foremost, it is merited that Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter captures a new contract – at some point. Before the 2020 season commenced, Hunter tallied more sacks than any other player in NFL history by the age of 25. That pace going forward – if it truly matters – is ruined as the 26-year-old missed the entire 2020 season with a frightening neck injury.

Ergo, this is not to proclaim that Hunter is undeserving of more money from the Vikings. Players like Joey Bosa and Myles Garrett are beginning to gather quarterback-like money upward of $25 million per year. After the 2019 season, Hunter was worthy of that recognition. By average annual salary — $14.4 million – Hunter is the 11th-most handsomely paid defensive end in the league. That “ranking” plummets to about 20th leaguewide when considering linebackers that lineup on the defensive line (but are not formally classified as defensive ends).

Is Hunter worthy of more than $14.4 million per season? Absolutely. Is now a good time for his camp to negotiate a pay raise? That’s debatable. The LSU alumnus missed 16 games in 2020 while battling the first serious injury of his six-year career.

The Vikings suffered because of it – massively. Minnesota’s pass rush belonged in a Jim Gaffigan monologue because it was a joke. The team oddly traded the one upper-echelon pass-rusher it did have in Yannick Ngakoue during the bye week. A team that struggled immensely with putting pressure on quarterbacks – traded its best pass-rushing commodity. As Jim Morrison sang 54 years ago, strange days have found us.

Now, general manager Rick Spielman must evaluate the personnel to pair with Hunter upon his return from the neck malady next season. But where did this “new contract for Hunter” stuff come from?

A Tweet from Rappaport

On October 22nd, 2020, NFL Network insider Ian Rappaport surprise-tweeted:

In the flick of a fingernail by Rappaport, the Vikings endured a season-ending injury from its most ferocious defensive player – and by the way, he wants a new contract, too. It had Hiroshima-like reverberations throughout the Vikings community because no writer nor analyst had heard any rumblings of malcontent from Hunter to date.

Because Rappaport put it on the map, though, here we are. Perhaps the NFL insider consulted Hunter’s agent before pressing SEND. Perhaps Rappaport just thought, “I bet Hunter will want more money at some point.” Either way, with 280 characters or less, Rappaport single-handedly began a raucous discourse about Hunter’s future. The eye-glaring emoji was a nice touch.

A Big Payday… after a Neck Injury?

Indeed, Hunter warrants a larger contract based on his defensive performance from 2015 to 2019. He far exceeded his third-round draft stock – and then some. The Vikings found a Top 5 defensive end in the midsection of the 2015 NFL Draft. It was a Spielman gem.

However, is now really the best time for Hunter to clamor for a new contract? That’s interpretive because, of course, it pertains to another man’s money. He is entitled to contractually ask and/or demand whatever is on his mind as a professional athlete. It is quite commonplace.

Recovering from a neck injury is probably the most daunting task for an NFL player to undertake. It is scary, too. For his well-being and the impact on the Vikings henceforth, Hunter’s return has far-reaching implications. But why would the Vikings “cave” to new contract demands when the team has not seen how Hunter bounces back? Objectively, it would seem foolhardy for the organization to hand out contract cash on a not-sure thing.

A Fairer Time for Discussion is Next Offseason

Hunter will get more money; the determination is the “when.” His cap hit in 2021 is near $17 million, still dwarfed by the NFL’s monetarist heavy-hitters like Khalil Mack and Frank Clark. But $17 million is assuredly not insulting. In fact, it should be perceived as a reasonable figure for an elite defensive end returning from a chilling injury.

If one examines this from the standpoint of the Vikings front office or even Hunter, the common sense points to awarding Hunter the big paycheck after the masses see how he bounces back. Should Hunter return to his quarterback-sponsored terrorism with north of 12 sacks, then yes, he will be in the driver’s seat to snag Top 3 EDGE rusher money. Until then, it is a supreme gamble by the Vikings to break the bank on good faith – especially for a team that will already be scraping the bottom of the salary cap for potential free agents in two months.

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Dustin Baker

Writer. Host of Bleav in Vikings Podcast w/B-Mac & Baker.

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