The Vikings need to address a few important things before turning their attention to Danielle Hunter. Unfortunately for the organization, it doesn’t look like retaining the veteran pass rusher will be easy. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, there is expected to be a “very strong market” for incoming free agents this offseason.
The Vikings were eyeing an uphill battle after Kirk Cousins’ season-ending injury, with reports that the team had called up Hunter before the deadline. The organization rejected those inquiries, but Fowler noted that plenty of teams have expressed interest, and with Hunter hitting free agency those teams will certainly be in the hunt again.
Fowler rounds out a handful of potential contenders. The Bears may want to build a veteran pairing with Montez Sweat, and the Jaguars may also be in the market (though they’ll have to figure out Josh Allen’s future with the organization first).
The Vikings will also look to retain their star defensive lineman. However, ESPN’s Dan Graziano says a new Hunter deal isn’t at the top of the front office’s list of priorities. Rather, the organization is naturally focusing on Cousins’ impending free agency and his questionable future at the quarterback position. The organization can obviously have multiple negotiations going on at once, but the team would probably want some clarity on their QB salary before committing big money elsewhere.
Hunter maxed out his incentive package this season, reaching the 14-sack plateau and collecting an additional $3M. These bonuses were part of a recent restructuring, which saw the 29-year-old earn $17M in guaranteed money last season. More notably, that restructuring also prevents the Vikings from slapping the franchise tag on Hunter, meaning the nine-year veteran will be free to test the market.
The Vikings will also have to load Hunter’s next contract with his impending dead cap charge. If Hunter leaves Minnesota, the Vikings will incur a $14.9 million dead-money fee. This isn’t a huge drop, and the Vikings front office may decide they’re willing to give up the extra money rather than leave a hole on their depth chart and their cap sheet.
The former third-round pick had one of the strongest seasons of his career in 2023. He finished last season with a career-high 16.5 sacks and a league-leading 23 tackles for loss. Pro Football Focus ranked Hunter 28th among 112 qualifying edge defenders, including a top 20 pass-rush grade.