A green cloud of money befogged the Minnesota Vikings offseason, permeating the franchise’s 2021 outlook as it was unclear if Danielle Hunter would hold out or show up and play in September.
The news broke on June 14th that Hunter would play for the 2021 Vikings, laying to rest various anxieties held by Vikings fans. Hunter’s presence catapults the pass rush to an intense level. Without Hunter, the pass-rush forecast is a gurgling “meh.” This is evidenced by the team’s performance via pass rush in 2020. Per Pro Football Focus, the Vikings possessed the NFL’s worst pass rush, led by Yannick Ngakoue, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Jalyn Holmes, and others. Now that Hunter is back – the optimism is rosier.
When the LSU alumnus inked a deal with the Vikings in 2018, it was as team-friendly as it gets. Hunter was a 3rd-Round talent that, at the time, recently busted out into the role of starting defensive end, allotted to him after long-time Viking, Brian Robison, retired. The deal was kind to the Vikings front office during the 2018 offseason, intensifying throughout the 2018 and 2019 seasons when Hunter’s output was magnificent.
Ergo, it was rumored he would hold out this summer, seeking money more fairly aligned with his EDGE-rushing peers . He ultimately did not and will play for the Vikings in Week 1 at the Cincinnati Bengals barring something fluky occurring. Here’s the deal and its reworking:
Some new details on the Danielle Hunter contract restructure:
• Two void years added
• $5.6M bonus prorated from 2021-2025 ($1.12M/year)
• His 2021 cap hit goes from $17.25M to $12.77M
• Saves the #Vikings $4.48M in cap space
• Hunter’s 2022 cap hit: $26.12M https://t.co/47uM58roQY
— Sean Borman (@SeanBormanNFL) June 21, 2021
Hunter received more guaranteed cheese this season while the long-term decision on his future with the Vikings is shoved into next spring. And, that’s fair. General Manager Rick Spielman should have a vivid sample size – the full 2021 season – to determine if Hunter is worthy of bank-breaking sums of money as he returns from a spooky neck injury. Minnesota rarely conducts in-season contract negotiations, so the Hunter hubbub will rise again when the 2021 season is over.
There’s even a date to consider as judgment day.
Per Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, it’s March 20, 2022.
NFL revealed today that the start of the new league year will be March 16, 2022. So that means the #Vikings will have to make a decision on an $18 million roster bonus potentially due DE Danielle Hunter by March 20 2022 unless they've done something else with his contract by then
— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) June 24, 2021
If Hunter is back to his 2019 ways, well, the decision should be a no-brainer. Extend the man once and for all, securing his membership with the Vikings for a decade. In the event he is underwhelming, Spielman will have some soul-searching to do.
By age 25, Hunter tallied 54.5 sacks – the most in NFL history by age 25. He missed all of the pandemic season due to the aforementioned neck injury, and the “by age 26” metric fell to this:
by Age 26,
1. J.J. Watt (74.5)
2. Derrick Thomas (66.0)
3. Von Miller (60.0)
t4. Jaren Allen (57.5)
t4. Bruce Smith (57.5)
t6. Dwight Freeney (56.5)
t6. Charles Haley (56.5)
8. Justin Houston (56.0)
9. Tim Harris (55.0)
10. Danielle Hunter (54.5)
— Dustin Baker (@DustBaker) January 12, 2021
All in all, there is a new, tangible date to monitor that will solve whether Hunter is a Vikings lifer – or a Diggisan departure.
If the team does not make any in-season overtures toward Hunter, the Vikings and Hunter have 269 days to decide the EDGE rusher’s long-term future.