Danielle Hunter Contract Extension Key Part of GM’s To-Do List
The Vikings offseason program is now in full swing as most players hit the field in voluntary OTAs this week. With first-round pick Jordan Addison now signed along with the rest of the draft class except for seventh-round running back DeWayne McBride, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah may look to add a couple of bargain free agents while focusing on two big extensions that lead his to-do list.
Danielle Hunter Contract Extension Key Part of GM’s To-Do List
Justin Jefferson’s new deal will make him the league’s highest-paid receiver, as he’ll jump Tyreek Hill’s $30 million per year in new money on his extension ($28 million per year overall average, including his final season before the four-year extension). Although it will be more costly, the J.J. extension should be an easier deal for Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to negotiate than Danielle Hunter’s pending extension because Jefferson has been a durable player throughout his three years in Minnesota while Hunter battled injuries in 2020 and 2021 before returning to his impactful self last season.
Hunter earned $20 million last year as part of his previously signed and then restructured $14.4 million per year extension signed in 2018, and he’s scheduled to make only $5.5 million in salary and bonuses in 2023. That definitely won’t fly for the three-time Pro Bowler, who is still only 28 years old and is coming off a season in which he played in every game for the first time since 2019 and produced 10.5 sacks, 22 QB hits, 65 tackles, and 12 tackles for loss. He should be even more effective in his second season as a 3-4 edge player/outside linebacker after being a 4-3 defensive end in his first six seasons.
Hunter is being counted on to be the 14.5 sack player he was in 2018 and 2019, and he has to play at or close to that level for the Vikings pressure defense under new defensive coordinator Brian Flores to improve on last year’s poor performance (31st ranked D). Za’Darius Smith has been traded, and Marcus Davenport was signed to replace him on the edge, but he was often injured during his five years with the Saints.
The Vikings also have D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones as rotational edge players, but for added depth at a critical position, the team could still use another edge rusher if they can find the cap space to sign Justin Houston or Leonard Floyd, to name a couple of quality defenders still available.
Now that Hunter has overcome his injury issues from 2020 and 2021, he should be signed long-term, and it can be done with guarantees and roster bonuses that trigger year-to-year along with a large signing bonus and a per-year average in the league’s top tier. Last year’s sack leader Nick Bosa of San Francisco, will soon surpass Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt ($28 million per year) as the top edge rusher. Hunter belongs in the $22-23.5 million per year range, where Bradley Chubb (Dolphins), Khalil Mack (Chargers), and Maxx Crosby (Raiders) sit behind Watt, Joey Bosa (Chargers–$25 million per year), and Myles Garrett (Browns–$25 million per year).
Stay tuned on the Hunter extension, even as the Jefferson deal likely will get more attention.
Vikings OTA Observations:
1. The Vikings coaches surely are happy to see last year’s first-round pick Lewis Cine practicing at safety, and he says he has no limitations after his recovery from last year’s broken leg suffered in London against the Saints in Week 4.
2. It was interesting to hear running back Alexander Mattison talk about the intensity and aggressive approach of the Vikings defense in the first 11-on-11 drills. Sounds like new defensive coordinator Brian Flores wants his defenders to play fast and at a high pitch from Day One, which is a good thing after the defense’s shaky play last season.
3. New tight end Josh Oliver’s $7 million per year deal seemed excessive for a player who has been almost exclusively a blocking tight end (even though he is one of the league’s best in that role) in his first four seasons in Baltimore and has only 26 career receptions. But along with excellent run blocking and pass protection, Coach Kevin O’Connell apparently is expecting bigger things in the passing game for Oliver this season, and it showed in a nice seam route reception for a big gain in OTAs this week.
Around the NFL Observations:
1. During the NFL owners’ meeting in Eagan at the Omni Viking Lakes Hotel this week, some good new rule changes passed. In the aftermath of the 49ers having no functional quarterback in the second half of last season’s NFC title game against the Eagles due to injuries to Brock Purdy and Josh Johnson, teams will now be allowed to dress and play a third quarterback if the other two are injured.
Another smart rule change involves the placing of the ball at the 25-yard line following fair catches on kickoffs for “player safety” to avoid returners getting hit excessively hard in these situations.
I’m not a fan of the league’s money-grab decision to flex a limited number of late-season Thursday night games on Amazon Prime by moving a Sunday matchup to Thursday and vice versa (to, in effect, increase the value of the Thursday night package). It’s in effect on a trial basis for 2023 only and faced a lot of opposition from owners such as the Giants’ John Mara, who called it “abusive” to fans who make plans to attend games at home and on the road.
These flipped games can occur during Weeks 13-17, with one month’s notice required. The coaches who will have to travel on a short week for such games will also be very unhappy as it’s a significant advantage for home teams in these short weeks, and it’s also tough on player recovery after Sunday games to play on Thursday. However, it is nice to have a mini-bye over that weekend.
2. The 49ers were happy to report that their second-year QB Brock Purdy, who was unbeaten as the starter in last year’s regular season, is recovering well from his elbow surgery and has been cleared to begin throwing next week.
That’s not great news for Marshall, Minnesota native Trey Lance, who was the third overall pick in the 2021 draft and will likely be the backup if Purdy avoids any major setbacks through the offseason and training camp. Fortunately for Purdy (the Iowa State product), he could avoid the more serious Tommy John surgery that was a possibility until the doctors determined a less invasive surgical procedure would suffice.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl
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