5 Free Agents To (Potentially) Replace Danielle Hunter

Ito Smith
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Minnesota’s star pass rusher Danielle Hunter isn’t happy with his contract. He is scheduled to be paid $5.5 million in 2023, which is an awfully low number for a Pro Bowl outside linebacker after an excellent 2022 campaign. Hunter ranked inside the top 10 in both QB pressures and hurries despite having a relatively slow start at his new position.

5 Free Agents To (Potentially) Replace Danielle Hunter

5 Free Agents To Replace Danielle Hunter
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Because of his contract status, Hunter is either expected to sign a new contract with the Vikings or somewhere else following a trade. If the Vikings traded him away, it would be Marcus Davenport as the top guy, followed by current backups D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones. The following players can not fully replace Hunter’s production but they could upgrade the situation without Hunter in the picture by taking his spot in the starting lineup.

Yannick Ngakoue

Ngakoue is known for two things: he is a fantastic pass rusher and his run defense is a liability. The Vikings witnessed it firsthand when he infamously led the team in sacks in 2020 despite only playing in six games. He recorded 5 sacks that season for the Vikings and 3 more in Baltimore after the trade.

In 110 career games, Ngakoue has produced 65 sacks and he has never had a season with fewer than 8 in his seven-year career. The former third-round pick would ensure a productive pass rush in Brian Flores’ defense in his age-28 season. After spending his first four seasons with the Jaguars, Ngakoue turned into a journeyman, playing for four different teams in the last three seasons.

Justin Houston

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Houston is a phenom, still playing at a high level despite his age. The defender is 34 years old and still puts up numbers. He just dropped 25 pressures and 9.5 sacks in Baltimore despite playing less than 50% of the snaps. Houston was once an elite pass-rusher; his best season came in 2014 when he recorded 22 sacks, just 0.5 short of Michael Strahan’s record. That was before Hunter even entered the draft (in 2015).

The four-time Pro Bowler would add more than just the on-field play. He could play the same role he did in Baltimore, alternating snaps with Wonnum or Jones and mentoring the young backups with his incredible experience collected over his long 12-year career.

Jadeveon Clowney

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The defender was the first overall pick in 2014 when the Vikings came away from the first round with Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater. His ridiculous forced fumble in college turned him into that highly-anticipated player with huge expectations but he never lived up to them.

Clowney is the opposite of Ngakoue. He is a phenomenal run defender but his pass-rush production leaves something to be desired. However, in the right system, he can put up decent numbers. Clowney recorded at least 50 pressures in five seasons of his career and had 9 sacks three times.

A similarity to Ngakoue is his journeyman status, playing for four different teams in the last five seasons. Without any doubt, Clowney is the biggest name on the list.

Dawuane Smoot

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dawuane Smoot (91) sacks Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) during the first quarter of a regular season NFL football matchup Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville Jaguars held off the Las Vegas Raiders 27-20. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union] Jki 110622 Raiders Jags Cp 57

The 28-year-old is not a household name among NFL fans but he could become one in the upcoming season if he finds a team where he gets the opportunity to start. Smoot only started 17 of 87 games through six seasons but managed to record 22.5 sacks and 60 QB hits. He produced at least 5 sacks in four straight seasons.

Just when he started to crack the starting lineup, he lost his job to first-overall pick Travon Walker and had to come off the bench, still recording 5 sacks in 2022 in 446 snaps. Smoot should be a cheaper option than the previous three candidates if the Vikings don’t want to spend big.

Robert Quinn

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Quinn’s career has been a mystery. He started off hot with the Rams where he recorded 5 sacks as a rookie, followed by 40 sacks in the next three campaigns before he slowed down again in 2015. The next double-digit sack campaign came in 2019 with the Cowboys. In 2020, Quinn managed to collect only 2 sacks, before exploding in 2021 for 18.5, setting the Bears single-season record. In 13 games in 2022, Quinn had only 1 sack.

His production has strangely jumped up and down. If the Vikings signed him and would get one of those up seasons, he could replace Hunter’s pass rush impact but the down year in 2022 is a risk.

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