The recent news that Danielle Hunter will hold out from mandatory mini-camp because of his contract dispute suggests that a deal may not be imminent. Presumably, the Vikings would prefer that Hunter attend mandatory mini-camp, as there is a lot for defensive linemen to learn in Brian Flores’ scheme. And so, despite the Vikings freeing-up more cap space with the release of Dalvin Cook, there may be other difficulties aside from cap space that could be preventing the Vikings and Hunter from reaching an extension deal.
The Danielle Hunter Side
Back in June 2018, Hunter agreed to a five-year, $72 million contract extension with an average annual value (AAV) of $14.4 million. On September 1st of that year, Khalil Mack signed a six-year, $141 million contract extension with an AAV of $23.5 million. Mack was four years older but arguably the better player at that time, but $9.1 million a year better? It’s easy to see how Hunter might’ve felt shafted with a contract that paid just over half what Mack got paid.
Since then, Joey Bosa- just a year younger than Hunter- signed a five-year, $135 million deal with an AAV of $27 million back in 2020. And Hunter has better stats than Joey Bosa.
Last year, 33 year-old Von Miller signed a six-year, $120 million deal with Buffalo, while 26 year-old Bradley Chubb, who has no where near the pressure stats of Hunter, signed a five-year, $110 million extension.
All of the above likely puts the Hunter side firmly in the, “we’ve been vastly underpaid for eight seasons (including rookie contract) with the Vikings and we’re not going to get shafted again” negotiating stance. Nobody could blame them given the comparable edge rusher contracts signed.
The Hunter side may also be looking for something similar to Joey Bosa’s deal- five years and $135 million with a $27 million AAV. That would make sense as an approximate market value.
In the meantime, Hunter is set to make just over $5 million in new money this season.
The Vikings’ Side
The Vikings may be somewhat sympathetic to the fact that Hunter has been underpaid, and indeed they restructured his contract a few times (to create cap space) but which also advanced Hunter money on his contract. But Hunter also missed about a year and a half of that contract due to injury.
Be that as it may, the Vikings’ new regime isn’t about to make Hunter whole for perceived losses on his last contract- which his agent negotiated, and he signed. The timing may have been inopportune for Hunter, but that’s not the Vikings’ fault.
But the new regime is interested in extending Hunter- they’ve not varied on that point according to Darren Wolfson- and presumably are willing to pay him the market rate for his services. The issue may be for how long.
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has avoided signing any new veteran contracts for more than three years, and with Hunter turning 29 this year, a five-year extension would take him to age 34. That’s likely to be a problem. Especially if Hunter is looking for a $27 million AAV. It doesn’t take an analytics-based GM in Adofo-Mensah to understand that Hunter’s production is likely to decline half-way into a five-year deal, based on his age. The question is only by how much?
Adofo-Mensah and the Vikings may be willing to pay Hunter $27 million AAV or similar, but on a much shorter deal- maybe a year or two. Or they may simply be looking at topping him up to his market value this year and exploring another deal next year. There’s no way to know for sure what the Vikings are negotiating toward, but there could be several reasons why the Vikings may not be interested in a long-term deal with Hunter.
One reason is that if Marcus Davenport works out this year, he’s younger and would likely command a hefty, but perhaps more manageable extension. Secondly, maybe edge rusher is a position they can address with a younger guy on the roster next year or in the draft.
A third reason may be scheme related. Hunter has been a traditional 4-3 defensive end that may not be quite as good in Flores’ scheme. Maybe. But the nature of Flores’ blitz-heavy scheme makes high-end edge rushers a bit more of a luxury than a necessity. Flores himself comes from the Belichick school, and Belichick hasn’t paid high-end salaries to edge rushers. Miami didn’t when Flores was there either. How long Flores remains in Minnesota is an issue for Adofo-Mensah as well, however. What happens if the Vikings shape their defensive personnel around Flores’ scheme only for him to take a head coaching job next year?
A Difficult Compromise
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Vikings led by Adofo-Mensah preferred a short-term deal that allows them to maintain flexibility, while Hunter’s side is firm in wanting a long-term (five-year) deal comparable to recent deals based on age and production.
For Hunter’s side, doing a one or two-year deal puts him in a more difficult position to get a long-term deal at 30 or 31, and an injury could further damage his prospects.
A compromise could come in the form of a longer-term deal that allows the Vikings a feasible early exit- whether release or trade. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb’s deals allow the team to exit after three years without an additional cap hit, and perhaps Hunter would accept a similar deal.
Perhaps the Vikings could offer Hunter a five-year, $135 million new money extension, converting all but the league minimum salary (around $1 million) in base salary to a signing bonus as part of a $30 million signing bonus this year, with base salaries of $24/$26/$28/$32 million, $54 million guaranteed (signing bonus + 2024 base salary). That would make Hunter a $7 million cap hit this year, leaving around $12 million or so in cap space available for the Vikings. That would allow the Vikings to exit after 2025 with an $23.6 million dead cap hit, which would be a $10.4 million cap savings in that year. There could be some incentives attached as well.
It’s unclear if Hunter would be willing to accept such a contract, or if they’ll want more guaranteed money and a higher AAV. But I suspect this would be the upper end of what the Vikings are willing to offer.
The Hunter camp may also be waiting for Nick Bosa’s extension, which will likely reset the top-end of the edge rusher market. Bosa is three years younger than Hunter, and has slightly better stats, but that deal could increase Hunter’s market value as well. Hunter’s camp will be mindful of what happened by signing in June of 2018 when Khalil Mack reset the market on September 1st.
Hunter’s Trade Value
If the two sides are unable to come to an agreement, Hunter is drawing trade interest from multiple parties. Jeremy Fowler is reporting that the Vikings are looking for at least a second-round pick plus another pick(s) to induce them to trade Hunter. Bradley Chubb (who’s younger but again doesn’t have stats anywhere near as good as Hunter’s) was traded for basically a late first-round pick last year (a 4th and 5th round pick were also exchanged along with Chase Edmonds). Should a trade happen, the Vikings could add a veteran like Kyle Van Noy - who knows Brian Flores and his system well- to help bridge the gap.
It’s unclear if any team has met the Vikings’ minimum threshold to trade Hunter, although all reporting suggests that the Vikings prefer to keep Hunter. Nevertheless, at some point this summer a resolution to the contract impasse will have to come.
Which option is better for the Vikings overall?
This poll is closed
Extend Hunter in something similar to the contract outline above
Trade Hunter for the equivalent of a late first-round pick