Danielle Hunter Is Back

Jun 7, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) performs a drill during mandatory mini camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings solved their longest-standing offseason mystery this weekend, re-upping with Pro Bowl pass rusher Danielle Hunter.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Hunter’s representation agreed on a one-year deal worth up to $20 million.

Danielle Hunter Is Back

The deal includes $17 million guaranteed, with $3 million tied to sack incentives.

Hunter Is
Oct 10, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter (99) celebrates a sack of Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (not pictured) during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports.

The move hits as Vikings fans have wondered for over six months if Hunter would be traded or extended, a decision that obviously impacts the 2023 season. Minnesota traded Pro Bowl EDGE rusher Za’Darius Smith to the Cleveland Browns in May, so it makes sense that Hunter would return — because why hope to improve a flimsy 2022 defense by trading the two best pass rushers?

The Vikings defensive group, led by Ed Donatell in 2022, ranked 27th per defensive DVOA, 30th in points allowed, and 31st in yards allowed. Minnesota dismissed Donatell accordingly four days after a heartbreaking loss in the postseason to the New York Giants and hired former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores in February. Flores hinted all offseason his desire to retain Hunter during his maiden-voyage season.

Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) celebrates the win after the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Flores’ wish was granted.

Hunter will turn 29 this October and played all 17 games in 2022 after missing ample time in 2020 and 2021. He missed the entire 2020 season with a neck injury and half of 2021 with a torn pectoral muscle. The LSU alumnus has hinted at an extension for about four straight offseasons, but the injury history made back-to-back Vikings general managers skittish about the commitment. Then, Hunter showed up in 2022, enmeshed in a 3-4 defense for the first time, and finished as Pro Football Focus‘ seventh-best pass rusher.

He was evidently worthy of a ninth season in purple, a signal the Vikings are ‘in it to win it’ for yet another year.

Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) tackles New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Hunter also avoided any possibility of a franchise tag next season, a contractual tool considered a scourge by players and agents. In the new contract, the Vikings cannot tag Hunter next offseason, and he’s tentatively scheduled to hit open free agency in March.

And if Hunter bolts to a new team in eight months, the Vikings would likely receive a 3rd-Round compensatory pick.

Danielle Hunter Trade Rumors
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) and Minnesota Vikings guard Ezra Cleveland (72) during the NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports.

Hunter’s extension, too, ended most of the summer cliff-hanging suspense pertaining to the franchise. While Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockenson are on deck for extensions, there is little mystery about those agreements coming to fruition. As recently as Saturday, Vikings loyalists were on pins and needles when ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler tweeted to start the weekend, “Sources from multiple teams say the Vikings have been open to trading Pro Bowl DE Danielle Hunter should sides fail to reach an extension. Hunter does not want to play on $4.9M salary, and sides have not made enough progress on a deal.”

In the end, there will be no Hunter trade — it would be really weird, if so — and the Vikings top defensive player stays in Minnesota for Kevin O’Connell’s second act.

Hunter has tabulated 71 sacks, 379 total tackles, 112 QB hits, and 7 forced fumbles in 102 career games. The 71 sacks rank eighth in team history.

  1. Carl Eller (130.5)
  2. Jim Marshall (128.0)
  3. John Randle (114.0)
  4. Alan Page (108.5)
  5. Chris Doleman (96.5)
  6. Jared Allen (85.5)
  7. Everson Griffen (79.5)
  8. Danielle Hunter (71.0)

Further details on the contract’s structure, including any possible void years, will be available in the coming days.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.