Danielle Hunter Is Back — Sort Of

The Vikings Top Defensive Performers vs. Lions, per PFF
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The Minnesota Vikings returned to Eagan this week for training camp, and among the top storylines surrounding the event involved outside linebacker Danielle Hunter, who held out of minicamp in June because of a desire for a contract extension.

Hunter is scheduled to earn just $5.5 million in ‘new money’ this season.

Danielle Hunter Is Back — Sort Of

And at training camp Tuesday, the team’s leaders, head coach Kevin O’Connell and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, took the microphone. The two explained Hunter is indeed at training camp but won’t partake in practice.

Danielle Hunter Is Back — Sort Of
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In a nutshell, Hunter is orchestrating a hold-in, not a holdout. Many believed Hunter would be absent altogether from training camp, but such is not the case.

NFL Network‘s Tom Pelissero tweeted Tuesday, “Vikings DE Danielle Hunter, who skipped last month’s minicamp while awaiting resolution on his future, has reported to training camp.”

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NFL insider Ian Rapoport quickly added context, “While Danielle Hunter showed up today, don’t expect him to practice while his situation gets resolved. Still a variety of options for how that would happen.”

O’Connell commented on Hunter’s ongoing status, “It’s going to be a day-to-day thing. Danielle and I have had such good dialogue over the last few days and built a plan for him that allows him to feel good about coming to work as a Minnesota Viking every single day. We’ll continue to work through the contractual side and let that be dealt with — with Kwesi.”

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah & Kevin O’Connell Talk Free Agent Moves, Future at Quarterback & 2023 NFL Draft in Eagan, Minnesota, on April 13th, 2023. Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell joined the organization in January and February 2022, respectively.

Hunter is likely to be extended or traded before too long, and his arrival in Eagan this week seems to hint that an extension is more likely. Had he played true hardball, he would’ve stayed away from the event entirely and accepted the daily fines.

The Vikings traded Hunter’s pass-rushing teammate, Za’Darius Smith, in May, and it would sure seem backward to offload the franchise’s top two sack vendors from 2022 in an effort to improve the 2023 defense. Minnesota ranked 27th per defensive DVOA last season, 30th in points allowed, and 31st in yards allowed. Theoretically, the club should add or retain more pass-rushing beef, not subtract.

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The Vikings drafted Hunter in 2015, a 3rd-Round selection from a tremendous class that featured Eric Kendricks and Stefon Diggs. Hunter clawed his way up the depth chart by 2017 and netted an impressive-at-the-time extension from former Vikings boss Rick Spielman in 2018.

Thereafter, though, Hunter blossomed into total stardom — right after signing the extension — and his deal has seemed more team-friendly by the minute. The LSU alumnus later missed all of the 2020 pandemic season due to a neck injury and half of 2021 with a torn pectoral muscle. Seeking an extension — akin to now — never materialized during the 2021 and 2022 offseasons because Minnesota wasn’t sure if his career was derailing due to injury. Hunter answered those concerns last year by playing all 17 games and tabulating 10.5 sacks.

An extension should fetch between $17 million and $22 million annually for the 28-year-old.

If traded, Minnesota would likely fetch a 2nd-Round Draft pick or so, with a mid-to-late-Round deal sweetener should the hypothetical trade involve picks only.

Hunter ranked as the NFL’s seventh-best EDGE rusher in 2022, per Pro Football Focus.

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.