Vikings Walked the Line with EDGE Rushers This Offseason

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 Minnesota Vikings did what they had to and tendered edge rusher Danielle Hunter a new contract on Sunday. While it’s good news that he’s back for 2023, it’s been an offseason of pressure from Minnesota edge rushers.

Vikings Walked the Line with EDGE Rushers This Offseason

Last season the Minnesota Vikings switched up their defensive alignment under new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. In doing so, they brought in Za’Darius Smith to rush the passer opposite Danielle Hunter. He was coming off an injury-riddled 2021 for Green Bay, but the Vikings hoped his skillset would pair with their already talented sack master.

Fortunately for Minnesota, Smith remained healthy throughout the bulk of the year and put up strong defensive numbers. Rather than remain with Minnesota on his current contract, he immediately started saying his goodbyes and forced a trade to the Cleveland Browns. Minnesota got very little in return as the writing was on the wall, and Smith had effectively forced himself out.

When Minnesota started training camp, Danielle Hunter was in the building, but he had no intention of taking the field either. Set to make just $4.9 million as a base salary on his current deal, he made his presence felt but brought the awkwardness of being around solely to get his new contract. Sunday, the Vikings caved, as they had to, and gave Hunter $20 million for 2023 while allowing him to become a free agent in the offseason. $17 million of his deal is guaranteed, with the final $3 million being tied to sack incentives.

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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.

Similar to Smith, Hunter strong-armed the Vikings into getting his way. While he wasn’t seeking a trade or way out, it was clear the valuation on the deal he recently signed wasn’t what he believed showed his worth in 2023. Minnesota did their best to call his bluff, apparently making him available in trade, but knowing he benefits a defense that needs a strong turnaround this year, keeping him was important.

The Vikings have turned over the defensive coordinator responsibilities to Brian Flores for 2023. He comes with an exceptional defensive pedigree, and the hope is that his abilities as a coach and leader can help to raise the water level for the unit as a whole. Being able to do that will be aided if Minnesota can continue to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Vikings to Showcase
Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center. Flores was hired in February 2023 to take over for Ed Donatel after Minnesota finished 30th in points allowed.

While Smith won’t be back this season, it’s Marcus Davenport taking over opposite of Hunter. Had the Vikings let Danielle walk, there would have been a sizeable gap in production falloff, and finding ways to remain tenacious on defense with lesser talent could have greatly impacted them. Of course, Hunter knew that as well, and it’s why he could demand the compensation increase in the first place.

With money now squared away and the contract situation behind him, the hope for Hunter is that he can immediately get on the field and back up to speed. He has skipped the offseason workouts and hadn’t taken the field with his teammates back in Minnesota. There are no logistical hurdles to clear as he has already been in the building, so immediately being all systems go would be good to see.

Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Marcus Davenport addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center. Davenport joined the Vikings in March of 2023 after four seasons with the New Orleans Saints.

With the rest of the training camp schedule in front of them, seeing Davenport and Hunter develop a level of rapport and communication could go a long way toward their collective effectiveness. Hunter worked well in tandem with Smith, and replicating that level of production in 2023 should be considered a must. Davenport has played his entire career with the New Orleans Saints, and being able to acclimate in Minnesota would be nice to see.

It was an unfortunate offseason for general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, needing to deal with heightened demands from his pass rushers, but they’re all taken care of now, and things must move forward.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.