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NFL Draft

Danielle Hunter, Vikings Contract Dilemma Isn’t Ending Anytime Soon

  • The Draft Network
  • May 28, 2021
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2020 was one of the more frustrating seasons of Mike Zimmer’s tenure as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings—it was his career-worst across the board in multiple categories. What was once known as a vaunted Vikings defense quickly regressed all the way down to basement levels below the mean of what we’ve seen in years past. Filled with youth in the secondary and at edge rusher combined with linebacker Anthony Barr being placed on injured reserve after only playing in two games last season, an injury-riddled and inexperienced defense led to a brutal start to the season.

The biggest piece to the puzzle that was absent was edge rusher Danielle Hunter. A steal that was found in the third round, the star defensive end has been on a rampage, breaking multiple franchise records that include him being only the third member of the franchise to reach and surpass the 50-sack mark during his first five seasons, joining Jared Allen (74) and Keith Millard (53).

A rare case of youth when drafted, Hunter was one of the youngest players of the 2015 draft class as a 20-year-old prospect. His youth hasn’t shielded him from becoming one of the best defensive ends in the league and the clear best defender on a Vikings defense that has stalwarts at all three levels.

Hunter missed all of the 2020 season and his absence was sorely felt by the team overall. Given Minnesota's franchise-low 23 sacks last season, it’s clear that Hunter is a key cog among a group that is set to have three new players along the interior following the addition of Dalvin Tomlinson via free agency and Michael Pierce returning after opting out of last season to avoid the risk of COVID-19

Hunter, who is still in the beginning stages of his prime, signed a lucrative five-year, $72 million extension prior to the 2018 season—one that both sides were happy to finally get done to prevent the team's star defensive player from being forced to enter the season playing on the final year of his rookie contract. Piecing together back-to-back 14.5 sack seasons after inking his name on the dotted line, it became evident to Hunter that the deal he signed was well below market value after he saw Joey Bosa sign a five-year, $135 million extension and then Myles Garrett also receive huge money with a five-year, $125 million contract in consecutive weeks. The rebuttal to that claim is that Hunter is a step below the elite tier like those two are, but Hunter’s line of thinking and viewpoint is likely that the contract he signed was quickly lapped by those two and that the financial ramifications attached to them make him significantly underpaid.

As a result, last October, NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport tweeted that Hunter may have been a bit disgruntled over the extension that he signed in 2018. Fresh off of having surgery on a herniated disk in his neck, Hunter missed all of last season, which places the Vikings in a tough spot. They are known as a franchise that takes care of homegrown talent that has been productive on the team for multiple years. Players such as Dalvin Cook, Anthony Barr, and Eric Kendricks have all received lucrative extensions in some form of fashion. Hunter is no different, but his absence from the team's facility has been noteworthy.

No one should ever get upset over a player missing voluntary workouts because the decision to participate in them is solely on the players. The important dates to circle are June 15-17. That marks the start of the Vikings minicamp practices for all players, which are mandatory. For each practice session that Hunter misses, he will be fined $100,000. He’s already risking missing out on a $100,000 workout bonus after missing the first round of OTAs.

This will continue to be one of the more interesting situations to monitor, mostly to see which side budges first, but it’s clear that the Vikings contain all of the leverage due to the player being under contract through the 2023 season. Having missed all of the most recent one, there isn’t much of a base for Hunter to stand on when stating his argument. Also, add in the fact that he had an injury to a very serious area and there isn’t much leverage for him currently. His best bet is likely to show that he’s back to form next season and then have his reps address their desires to return to the negotiation table to restructure the extension that he signed in 2018.

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