According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the Minnesota Vikings have begun exploring options to trade disgruntled edge rusher Danielle Hunter, who held out of spring practice and has “held in” during training camp.
Hunter reported to Vikings training camp on Tuesday but has not participated in any practices. He has had his contract restructured twice in recent years.
The Minnesota Vikings Offered an Extension to Danielle Hunter
Hunter has been in a dispute with the Vikings over his contract, which pays him $4.9 million in base salary this year and could pay out as much as $5.5 million because of per-game roster bonuses.
Since signing an extension with the Vikings in 2018, Hunter has been consistently paid less than his production has warranted. He doesn’t have much money guaranteed, with roster bonuses composing a small chunk of his expected payout instead of a more secure guaranteed salary or roster bonus paid out all at once at the beginning of the season.
According to Fowler, the Vikings have offered at least one extension to Hunter, but he had turned that extension down because he didn’t feel like it reflected his skills.
The Vikings Seemed Confident in Resolving the Danielle Hunter Situation
This new report runs counter to the tenor of the conversation that the Vikings had put forth since players began reporting to camp on Tuesday. While general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah did say that the conversations with Hunter are “ongoing,” he also added that he was “really excited to see him” when asked if he was confident Hunter would be part of the team.
Head coach Kevin O’Connell seemed more confident in the past several days than he had been during spring practices, adding that they’ll be moving forward “with a positive mindset that hopefully Danielle Hunter is playing every single game for us this year.” O’Connell also said, “We also want to make sure Danielle feels 100 percent comfortable and is excited about that.”
Defensive coordinator Brian Flores mentioned that he had several conversations with Hunter in the offseason, including one on Tuesday, when Hunter reported to camp, saying, “I’m excited to work with him.”
The Vikings Have Remained Confident About Resolving the Situation
After the Fowler report came out, O’Connell spoke about the situation with Hunter in an already scheduled press availability. “I’m having daily dialogue personally with [Hunter],” he said. “Danielle has played a lot of football. He’ll be ready to go, but my hope is that we can work towards him being out on the practice field with us sooner rather than later.”
As for the content of those conversations, O’Connell was vague but spoke to keeping Hunter prepared for the season. “Part of the daily dialogue between him and I [is] making sure that whether it’s physical, or above the neck, just trying to get himself prepared as things we continue to kind of work towards that positive outcome, positive solution.”
When asked directly if the contract dispute was why Hunter hasn’t taken the field, O’Connell again spoke in broader terms. “I think there’s a lot of aspects of it when you really start communicating with the player,” he said to the question. “A lot goes into it. Like I said, the day-to-day communication is the most important thing for me and he’s been great about that.”
He wasn’t asked directly about a trade, but he did say “Having him hopefully in 99 in purple would be my choice.”
Danielle Hunter Has Performed at a High Level Since Signing
Since signing his contract, Hunter ranks eighth among edge rushers with at least 1,500 pass-rushing snaps in pressure rate and seventh in pressures per game. Complicating matters are the fact that he missed the 2020 season entirely due to a neck injury and part of the 2021 season because of another injury.
That’s why he ranks 15th among edge rushers in total pressures over that span. It might be one reason why he’s seeking guarantees while the Vikings are looking for the opposite.
In total cash, Hunter has earned the eighth-most among edge rushers since his 2018 contract, though there is a sizable difference between his cash total and those in the top five. Fifth-ranked Cameron Jordan made $10 million more, and third-ranked Chandler Jones brought in $19 million more.
When including 2024 cash, Hunter drops to 14th, which provides a little bit more context, given that he has had his contract restructured twice to push cap space into 2024 while theoretically paying him more up front. Those restructures have also been a sore spot for the edge rusher.
The Options for the Vikings at Edge Rusher Are Thin
Should the Vikings trade Hunter, Marcus Davenport would be the only edge rusher on the roster with more than 17 games of starting experience. D.J. Wonnum, who has started exactly 17 games, would be the next-most experienced edge rusher on the roster and would likely replace Hunter.
They did not add any players in the draft but do have other young pass rushers, like Pat Jones II and undrafted rookie Andre Carter II.
Yannick Ngakoue, Jadeveon Clowney, and Trey Flowers are all available in free agency. That would give the Vikings some options if they traded Hunter away but also makes a trade slightly more difficult — any team interested in Hunter would have to weigh their willingness to give up assets instead of just signing one of the edge rushers available in free agency.