Defender’s Strong Market Is a Problem for Vikings

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General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will oversee a crucial offseason for the organization’s future. With Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter scheduled to leave in free agency, as well as some other contributors like D.J. Wonnum, Jordan Hicks, Dalton Risner, and K.J. Osborn, he has a bunch of holes to fill in his third year as Minnesota’s top decision-maker.

Defender’s Strong Market Is a Problem for Vikings

A key component in the offseason, especially in the early part of free agency, will be to re-sign some of those aforementioned guys. Cousins will be a hot commodity with multiple teams looking for a quick solution at the most important position. Hicks and Risner were decent starters in 2023, so their return makes sense on a reasonable salary, and it remains to be seen how the market will look for pass-rusher Wonnum after his breakout season.

 Strong Market Is a Problem for Vikings
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jake Browning (6) is sacked hard by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) in the second quarter of the NFL Week 15 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings at PayCor Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. © Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

His veteran teammate Hunter will surely generate a ton of interest after finishing fifth on the sack list with a career-high 16.5 QB takedowns. He also led the league in tackles for loss and posted 4 forced fumbles and 83 tackles, both personal bests.

Hunter is an outstanding player, the one clear difference-maker on a defensive front that lacks talent. His departure is possible after nine years with the franchise that drafted him in the third round in 2015. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that he will encounter a significant demand for his service:

The sense I get here in Vegas is that Danielle Hunter will be hard for the Vikings to keep. He will have a very strong market, he turned 29 in October, and several teams had interest at the trade deadline. Chicago could look to add a pass-rusher to complement Montez Sweat in free agency and is very high on Hunter. The Jacksonville Jaguars are another team to watch, though they have to figure out Josh Allen’s future.

Coming off his statically best season at age 29, Hunter will try to notch another huge contract, perhaps the final big money deal of his career. On the flip side, the Vikings might be unwilling to give him that kind of deal as they could’ve done it already.

Future in Minnesota Should
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Just last preseason, when he was unhappy with his contract, the Vikes gave him a raise but not a new long-term agreement. An annual salary north of $25 million is not only possible, it appears likely after this report.

Having him stay in the NFC North would be a brutal blow as he can elevate an already improving Bears defense. Presumably, with first-overall pick Caleb Williams, the Bears would slowly grow into a threat for years to come. The Vikings and purple fans would surely prefer to send him to the AFC.

But those fans would undoubtedly choose a contract extension for their top defender. GM Adofo-Menah is under pressure as he turned down trade offers at the deadline, opening the door for him to leave without anything in return besides a potential compensation pick. The Vikings cannot use the franchise tag. They gave up that right when they adjusted the terms in August.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy makes a pass against Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner during the first half of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024.

If Hunter ultimately departs, defensive coordinator Brian Flores would need a new pass-rusher. The looming exits of fellow defenders Marcus Davenport and Wonnum elevate that need.

Using the 11th overall pick on a pass-rusher is quite possible, and Jared Verse, Dallas Turner, and Laiatu Latu are frequent picks in mock drafts. However, Adofo-Mensah might want to use that pick to get a successor for Cousins. Those two premium positions are interconnected in Minnesota’s offseason.

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Another possibility is the acquisition of an outside linebacker in free agency. Brian Burns and Josh Allen are the best players on the market, although they are unlikely to hit free agency as they can be franchise-tagged. Current Jets defender Bryce Huff could be an affordable alternative, but he would be a downgrade compared to the best Vikings defender.

Hunter’s future is one of the top questions Adofo-Mensah must answer in the next month.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt