Kevin O’Connell’s Danielle Hunter Update Isn’t Overly Promising

Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell at 2023 mandatory minicamp in Eagan. The Vikings won 13 games in O'Connell's first season as head coach. He previously won a Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams as offensive coordinator in 2021.

Outside linebacker Danielle Hunter may remain with the Minnesota Vikings in 2023 and beyond, but that shouldn’t be considered a slam dunk as of June 13th.

Hunter is scheduled to earn around $5 million in ‘new money’ this season, an underwhelming figure for one of the NFL’s top pass rushers.

Kevin O’Connell’s Danielle Hunter Update Isn’t Overly Promising

The Vikings kicked off mandatory minicamp in Eagan on Tuesday, and Hunter was absent because — you guessed it — he wants a new contract.

Danielle Hunter Update
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

Head coach Kevin O’Connell predictably spoke about Hunter’s absence — he’s one of the team’s best players — but didn’t sound overly optimistic that Hunter will stay with the Vikings. O’Connell certainly didn’t imply the defender would be traded, yet his words regarding Hunter’s future in Minnesota were somewhat vanilla.

“I’ve got all the respect in the world for Danielle Hunter as a player, leader, and person on our team. We feel very strongly about being solutions-oriented with everything that comes about. This example, just like the other ones that have come about, we’ll do the same and hope to have continued dialogue and have a real positive outcome,” O’Connell said Tuesday.

So, this can be filed in the coach-speak bin.

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Hunter ranked as the NFL’s seventh-best EDGE rusher in 2022 per Pro Football Focus, his healthiest season since 2019. An injured neck canceled his entire 2020 campaign, and Hunter missed about half of the 2021 season with a torn pectoral muscle. But Hunter thrived last year inside a 3-4 defense for the first time, though, especially after acclimating in September and October.

Asked if Hunter would remain in Minnesota this season, the Vikings skipper replied, “I definitely see that as a real outcome. But there is a lot to be determined, and I want to be very sensitive to that situation to play out both for our organization and for Danielle.”

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Again, O’Connell’s words aren’t tarot cards predicting Hunter is a goner or anything of the sort. However, pertaining to other Vikings players this offseason, such as Justin Jefferson, O’Connell and his boss Kwesi Adofo-Mensah have been much more emphatic about wanting the player back. What O’Connell didn’t say Tuesday? We want Hunter back, no matter what.

And if the Hunter contract extension isn’t reached, Minnesota may have a budding problem on its hands. The club hopes to fix the league’s 27th-ranked defense per DVOA from 2022 with the addition of new defensive coordinator Brian Flores. If Hunter is subtracted as a defensive contributor, well, he’s not exactly the kind of man who can be replaced with a reservist player.

The Vikings Top Defensive Performers vs. Lions, per PFF
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Hunter’s next contract — from the Vikings or a different NFL team — is expected to total $20+ million per season. When the dust settles, he’s likely to stay in Minnesota, but O’Connell didn’t sound incredibly certain about the situation at minicamp.

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).

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