Danielle Hunter’s Contract Could Become a Thing

The Vikings Top Defensive Performers vs. Lions, per PFF
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Once the Minnesota Vikings get over the hump of free agency, the 2023 NFL Draft, and perhaps contract extensions for Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockenson, a familiar topic will likely permeate Vikings-themed discussions — Danielle Hunter’s money.

Hunter signed a five-year contract worth $72 million in 2018 — yes, five years ago — and that deal is coming to an end. Unbelievably, Hunter is close to finishing the deal he signed with Rick Spielman when he was just breaking out into superstardom. It doesn’t often happen for players of Hunter’s caliber, especially as the NFL’s money market resets annually.

Danielle Hunter’s Contract Could Become a Thing

But Hunter’s “problem” in 2020 and 2021 was injury. He missed all of 2020 with a neck injury and half of 2021 with a torn pectoral muscle. The Vikings front office — two different iterations — needed to know if Hunter would return to his monstrous form, which he mostly did in 2022. The LSU alumnus started and played in all 17 games during head coach Kevin O’Connell’s opening salvo, so it’s safe to say Hunter is durable again.

Contract Could Become
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports.

The good part for him? He’s entitled to a shiny new deal more aligned with priciness of the EDGE rusher market. The man deserves it. And because the Vikings have been embroiled in signing new players like Marcus Davenport and Byron Murphy, Hunter’s upcoming extension talks haven’t even hit the radar. But they’re coming.

KSTP’s Darren Wolfson said on SKOR North’s Mackey and Judd Show this week, “I would say that’s another situation worth monitoring because I have a hard time believing that Danielle Hunter is comfortable playing this year at just over $5 million, compared to what many of his colleagues are making. If you look at comps, go up and down the list of guys that produced like he has produced, those guys are making triple what he is set to make in 2023.”

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“So, I just have a hard time believing that he’ll just say, ‘okay, no problem, I’ll show up when you need me to show up, no issue whatsoever.’ So I would say, to be determined, stay tuned… but that’s definitely a talker as we move forward into spring,” Wolfson added.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Hunter contract talks are on the horizon, but the Wolfson musings can be considered a quasi-formality. They’re on the way.

For now, per average annual salary, Hunter’s $14.4 million per year ranks 14th among all EDGE rushers. His deal is outdated, Wolfson mentioned the active $5 million cashflow, and Hunter deserves a deal — finally– in line with a Top 10 pass rusher. The “excuse” was injury-related before, but that rationale is dead. The man seamlessly tweaked his skillset inside a new 3-4 defense in a matter of weeks and wound up as Pro Football Focus seventh-best EDGE in all of football last year. His compensation should mirror the Top-7-or-so production.

Well, That Was a Defensive Stinker.
Lions running back D’Andre Swift is tackled by Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter during the second half of the Lions’ 34-23 win over the Vikings on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, at Ford Field. © Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK.

In three straight offseasons — soon to be four — Rick Spielman or Kwesi Adofo-Mensah have wrestled with “the Hunter question,” usually winning out for the team’s sake because of injury concern. It’s a mini-miracle that they’ve gotten away with it this long.

This time, though, Hunter should brush off any tomfoolery questioning his worth and finally land his next big contract. The proof is in the pudding, on the field — undoubtedly.

The Vikings are shaping up to experience phenomenal cap standing in 2024 — that’ll be a first, eh? — so extending Hunter can predominantly impact future salary-cap years, not 2023, as that one is still slim pickings.

But right after, during, or even before the Jefferson and Hockenson deals are inked, Hunter will be right there in the mix with his arms crossed.

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,’ and The Doors (the band).

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