Can the Vikings Afford to Trade Away Danielle Hunter?

Feb 4, 2023; Paradise, NV, USA; NFC linebacker Danielle Hunter of the Minnesota Vikings (99) during practice at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings are reportedly receiving trade interest for star edge rusher Danielle Hunter. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network offered the news yesterday.

A three-time Pro Bowler, Hunter is one of the top pass rushers in the NFL and he is coming off a strong season, his first fully-healthy season since 2019. A trade would undoubtedly weaken the team but can the Vikings survive without their top defender?

Can the Vikings Afford to Trade Away Danielle Hunter?

Can the Vikings Afford to Trade Away Danielle Hunter?
Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) throws a pass as Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) rushes in during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has already traded away Za’Darius Smith to the Cleveland Browns because he wanted out. The Pro Bowler didn’t feel like he was compensated well enough for his services, and he had a point after a great 2022 campaign. Now Hunter has a similar problem.

He is only scheduled to receive a $5.5 million paycheck in the upcoming season, a remarkably low number. That is because the Vikings moved up some payments in the past and the final year of his deal has only that little money left. A trade is possible if the two sides can’t reach an agreement for a contract extension.

Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) is pressured by New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) and defensive end Marcus Davenport (92) during an NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If the Vikings also move on from their second starting edge rusher from the 2022 campaign, the depth would get tested. Adofo-Mensah signed Marcus Davenport in free agency. The defender agreed to a one-year contract for $13 million. That deal can be titled prove-it-deal. Davenport has never played a full season and injuries have been a huge problem for him in his five-year career. The 26-year-old played in only 63 regular season games through his first five seasons in the league He recorded 21.5 sacks, 142 tackles, and 25 tackles for loss.

Davenport is a decent player but his counting stats don’t fully show his disruptive talent. He is providing constant pressure against the pass. That is not quite a sack but also valuable because it throws off the timing of the play. The physical freak has much more potential than he has shown so far. He could be the top guy of a pass-rushing unit but it involves some risk. Both injury history and inconsistent play are problematic.

PurplePTSD: A Less Fearsome Pass Rush, Saints Injuries, Is this Primetime for Cousins?
Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) and linebacker Danielle Hunter. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Behind the scheduled starting duo of Hunter and Davenport, defensive coordinator Brian Flores has two proven backups: D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones.

The duo was on the field on a combined 868 defensive snaps. Wonnum had the majority of them, 562 to be exact. In those plays, they each recorded four sacks. Jones had 27 tackles, including 8 tackles for loss. Wonnum had 38 tackles and 5 tackles for loss.

Wonnum had a career-high PFF grade of 57.7. Jones fired up a 65.6. However, Wonnum blew out Jones in the pass-rush statistics QB pressures, hits, and hurries. The Vikings liked to use Wonnum in obvious passing situations. On the flip side, Wonnum is an underwhelming run defender, which is why Jones has a chance to unseat him as the top backup. In the case of a Hunter departure, one of the duo would have to step up and become a starter.

Minnesota also employs a couple of undrafted players. Luiji Vilain was signed last year and he beat the odds and made the team. His contributions in the debut season were limited because his teammates stayed healthy except for some minor issues. He played on 34 defensive snaps, half of them in Week 18 in Chicago.

Nov 12, 2022; Troy, Alabama, USA; Troy Trojans quarterback Gunnar Watson (18) looks to evade Army Black Knights outside linebacker Andre Carter II (34) during the second half at Veterans Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Andre Carter was signed right after the draft. He is a highly regarded player and the Vikings view him as an additional draft pick. However, undrafted players always fight an uphill battle to even make the roster. Not having Hunter in the mix would be of help for the rookie in that regard.

Flores has an aggressive mindset and is good at drawing up blitzes to create pressure but not having an elite pass rusher on the team would hurt and make life much harder for the young cornerback group. A defense with Wonnum or Jones as a starting edge rusher is in trouble. The Vikings could still entertain the pass-rush free agency market if Hunter is indeed traded away. Former first-overall pick Jadeveon Clowney and ex-Viking Yannick Ngakoue are the two top guys. Neither of the two can fully replace Hunter but they are proven starters who could help the defensive turnaround.

The addition of Flores can only help so much. Fielding a good defense in the upcoming season without Hunter is unlikely. If the Vikings want to be competitive in 2023 – and they have always made it clear they do – trading away Hunter would be a bad idea as the backups aren’t ready to replace him.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt