Kevin O’Connell Already Misses One Former Viking

Odds for Next Year
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It’s only been two weeks, but his absence is felt.

Kevin O’Connell Already Misses One Former Viking

That’s Danielle Hunter, and Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell commented on the defender’s absence this week. Hunter joined the Houston Texans during free agency’s first wave on a two-year, $49 million deal.

Kevin O'Connell
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“I really have so many positive feelings towards Danielle. I know with DeMeco Ryans in that system with a talented pass rusher on the other side … My expectation is that Danielle is going to have a huge impact in Houston,” O’Connell said in Orlando to reporters.

Meanwhile, to replace Hunter, the Vikings signed two outside linebackers on the same day, March 11th, when legal tampering kicked off: Jonathan Greenard of the Houston Texans and Andrew Van Ginkel from the Miami Dolphins. During free agency’s second wave, the club also signed Jihad Ward, formerly a member of the New York Giants.

Curveball for Danielle
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O’Connell added about Hunter, “We do have to play him, so we’re going to have to have a heck of a protection plan when we take on those guys.” The Vikings host the Texans at U.S. Bank Stadium, and a date for the contest will be revealed in May.

The Vikings reportedly had a deal on the table for Hunter similar to what he ultimately signed in Houston, but when he didn’t accept it to start free agency, Minnesota acted, signing the aforementioned Greenard and Van Ginkel. There was no time to waste if Minnesota wanted starting EDGE rushers. Waiting for Hunter could’ve turned fatal for roster construction.

The Deadliest Aspect
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Down in Texas, Hunter will now form a ferocious pass-rushing duo with last year’s rookie Will Anderson. Without Hunter in 2023, Houston ranked third leaguewide per ESPN’s pass-rush win rate metric. So, adding Hunter will spell double trouble for the AFC South.

Hunter joined the Vikings in 2015 as a 3rd-Round pick and didn’t take long to blossom. He earned a starter’s job by 2017, his third year as a pro, replacing Brian Robison, and never looked back. In 2023, Hunter was the Vikings’ most consistent defensive player in a season when the defense, on the whole, was a total rollercoaster. The club began 2023 with a terrible first three games, became one of the best defenses in football from Weeks 4 through 14, and bottomed out at the worst possible time during the season’s final four games.

What Would Happen
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All together last season, Hunter banked a career year, his age-29 campaign, totaling 16.5 sacks, a career-high. That mark also ranked fifth leaguewide, trailing T.J. Watt (19.0), Trey Hendrickson (17.5), Josh Allen (17.5), and Khalil Mack (17.0). He also led the NFL in tackles for loss.

Hunter said about joining the Texans two weeks ago, “It’s an honor to be able to come back and play in front of my family and all the people that I grew up with. I know they’ve been pretty excited about the news lately. They’ll finally be able to come to a game and see me play.”

Per ESPN’s Stephen Holder, the Indianapolis Colts offered Hunter more money than the Texans and Vikings, but the 29-year-old wanted to play in his hometown of Houston.

Hunter will turn 30 in October.

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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