Going into the offseason, there were a lot of questions about the Minnesota Vikings’ defense, especially at the edge position. After the hiring of Brian Flores, they signed Marcus Davenport from the New Orleans Saints on the first day of free agency.
That move sent signals that either Danielle Hunter or Za’Darius Smith would be moving on from the Vikings in 2023. Days prior, Smith had requested his release from the team. He ended up getting his wish with a May trade to the Cleveland Browns.
As things currently sit, the Vikings have both Hunter and Davenport as their starting edge rushers for 2023, but the former is still in need of a new contract.
On Wednesday afternoon, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that teams are calling the Vikings about a Hunter trade. Considering how events have unfolded this offseason, that’s not a good thing for the Vikings.
Simply put, if the Vikings trade him for anything less than a major haul, trading Hunter now would be a failure by Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and the front office.
Let’s start the discussion here. In my research, there haven’t been any questions to either Adofo-Mensah or head coach Kevin O’Connell about Hunter’s future in the past six months. This quote is from the 2022 NFL combine.
— Bill Porter (@BMack764) March 1, 2022
They have wanted Hunter on the team from the beginning. That was shown when they converted the $18 million non-guaranteed roster bonus last March into a signing bonus, giving him the entirety of it and spreading it out over three seasons to lessen the cap hit.
In 2022, he came out and had a great season with 10.5 sacks and 78 pressures per PFF, ranking eighth in the league. He did this all while being asked to play standing up, which was visually uncomfortable for him.
The important fact for Hunter is that he stayed healthy the entire time. After missing all of 2020 with a neck injury and most of 2021 with a torn pectoral muscle, it was important that he prove that once again.
The way the contract was structured going into the offseason, the Vikings knew they needed to do something to fairly compensate Hunter. He was due just $4.9 million in base salary with a maximum cash flow of $5.5 million. For a top 10-15 pass rusher at the age of 28, that’s not nearly fair compensation.
Part of how his contract is structured is due to the significantly small contract he signed in 2018. At five years, $72 million, it was between $7-10 million below his market value at the time and aged even worse. They moved money up from the back end of the contract to get him closer, but this was all coming to a boiling point this year.
In Rapoport’s report on Wednesday, the Vikings tried a band-aid deal with Hunter, which isn’t exactly the smartest way to go. Now, you have a player who has consistently felt like he hasn’t gotten market value and you initially try a band-aid deal? Sure, go ahead and upset Hunter a little more.
Of course, this is all from an outside perspective. We can only look at things from what we currently know and what we know is this. The Vikings look to be mishandling Hunter’s contract situation in a major way. If they were to trade him, they won’t have the ability to replace him until the 2024 draft, whereas making the move in March would have given them the opportunity to take a Myles Murphy or Nolan Smith during the 2023 draft.
It also raises a major question: does Adofo-Mensah have an issue with extending a major commitment to a singular player? Only two of his non-rookie contracts have extended past two seasons and Za’Darius Smith’s was essentially funny money that was never meant to be played on. It’s a fair question to ask since he consistently talks about flexibility on the payroll and hasn’t signed anyone to a long-term contract.
Right now, Hunter is a cornerstone of the Vikings and not making him a priority after saying as such before he had a great season is an institutional failure.