Neal: Why Hunter should join Cousins, Jefferson in Vikings' top priorities

La Velle's 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions on Sundays.

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Vikings left tackle Christian Darrisaw could approach the line of scrimmage next season, look across and see Danielle Hunter waiting for him.

In a Lions uniform.

Or a Bears uniform.

This outcome is very possible and likely would torment followers of the Purple. Not only would it mean Hunter departed as a free agent, it'd also mean the dynamic defense end signed within the division. Detroit's Aidan Hutchinson or Chicago's Montez Sweat would be thrilled to add another pass-rushing savant on their lines. And Hunter would have two shots a season to show the Vikings what they are missing.

New England, Carolina, Jacksonville and Washington are among teams that need pass rush help too, so Hunter will have plenty of options to choose from. But he knows the NFC North division well, having played eight seasons in Minnesota.

In order to eliminate the possibility of Hunter haunting the Vikings, all they have to do is sign him to a contract extension.

General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is having a very busy offseason. He must decide whether to sign quarterback Kirk Cousins, move on and draft a quarterback, or keep Cousins and still draft a signal-caller. He must engage Justin Jefferson about a contract extension that is expected to reset the wide receiver market.

Those are major tasks. But he can't forget about Hunter, who is 29 and in his prime.

Defensive coordinator Brian Flores squeezed every ounce of production he could from the Vikings last season, a unit that still needs upgrades at several positions. One reason the defense improved was that Flores got career highs on sacks (16.5), forced fumbles (4) and total tackles (83) from No. 99. He played every game for the second consecutive season as well.

If Hunter enters the free-agent market in March, he's likely not coming back. The Vikings also could lose edge D.J. Wonnum (eight sacks last season) to free agency. The free-agent class of edge rushers is not flush, so Hunter and Wonnum and their combined 24.5 sacks would get immediate attention on the open market.

The team's recent handling of their pass-rushers boosts concern here, too. They casted into the free-agent waters last year and pulled out Marcus Davenport. How did that work out?

In addition to solving the Cousins and Jefferson cases, retaining Hunter should be just as high of a priority.

Good luck, Kwesi.

Baseball's cold stove

Hey Twins, now that you know what your television revenue is for 2024, reigning NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell is still on the market. So is nasty lefthanded starter Jordan Montgomery. Still looking for a righthanded bat? Matt Chapman remains a free agent.

There are still high-quality players still looking for work. While the Twins aren't expected to move on any of the top remaining free agents, it's eye-opening that they remain on the market.

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, during a news conference on Thursday, revealed that proposals have been floated to the player's association about having a free agent signing period, with a deadline. "They were not warmly received," Manfred said.

I don't blame the players for their stance. Go get the best deal possible. But there should be a compromise here. Teams and players should know by February who is going where. Fans, too.

PWHL trailblazers

It's not too often a Minnesota sports team can say it is first in something. So here's a shoutout to a first-place team. I'm not talking about the first-place Timberwolves, whose coaching staff and top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns) are headed for the NBA All-Star Game. The Minnesota Professional Women's Hockey League team sits atop the league standings after beating Ottawa twice in four days.

PWHL Minnesota (can't wait for nicknames to come) was part of the first trade in league history last week when it received defender Sophie Jaques from Boston in exchange for two players. This brought other tidbits to light, like the fact there's a March 17 trade deadline and that each team must have six three-year contracts on the roster at the start of a season, and Boston now has five. Good stuff.

So while adding offense to its blue line and strengthening an already strong roster, PWHL Minnesota also made history.


No-go on Odo

Despite having watched Jake Odorizzi throw twice in recent weeks, the Twins will not have a reunion with the righthander who was named to the All-Star team while pitching for them in 2019.

Wild back-to-back

The Wild's resurgent play will run into turbulence this week when they lose to the Pacific division-leading Canucks on Monday before defeating Winnipeg on Tuesday.