The 2019 free agency class could have exploded in Rick Spielman’s face.

With Trae Waynes, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, Stefon Diggs and Anthony Barr all set to have contracts expire after the 2018 season, the Vikings could have found themselves swiftly depleted of talent shortly after an NFC Championship run that was built off the back of the most consistent starting defensive unit in the NFL.

Since then, the Vikings have found a way to relieve the pressure by activating Waynes’ fifth-year option and extending Kendricks. By extending Hunter, they’ve been able to add to that security – and to a team-friendly deal, to boot.

With a $72 million deal that can escalate to $78 million with incentives – likely tied to All-Pro appearances and sack totals – Hunter carries an average cap hit of $14.4 million over the course of his five-year deal.

In the current cap environment, that’s an excellent deal for a starting pass rusher with his upside and history of production. One can compare his average salary to that of other top pass rushers by looking at the percentage of the cap space they consumed with their average salary in the year that they signed.

Player Team Year Total Avg % of Cap
Von Miller Broncos 2016  $114.1M  $19M 12.2%
Justin Houston Chiefs 2015  $101M  $16.8M 11.7%
Olivier Vernon Giants 2016  $85M  $17M 10.9%
Clay Matthews Packers 2013  $66M  $13.2M 10.7%
Robert Quinn Rams 2014  $57M  $14.3M 10.7%
Chandler Jones Cardinals 2017  $82.5M  $16.5M 9.9%
Ezekiel Ansah Lions 2018  $17.1M  $17.1M 9.7%
DeMarcus Lawrence Cowboys 2018  $17.1M  $17.1M 9.7%
Melvin Ingram Chargers 2017  $64M  $16M 9.6%
Jason Pierre-Paul Buccaneers 2017  $62M  $15.5M 9.3%
Calais Campbell Jaguars 2017  $60M  $15M 9.0%
Everson Griffen Vikings 2017  $58M  $14.5M 8.7%
Danielle Hunter Vikings 2018  $72M  $14.4M 8.1%
Ryan Kerrigan Redskins 2015  $57.5M  $11.5M 8.0%
Cameron Jordan Saints 2015  $55M  $11M 7.7%
Nick Perry Packers 2017  $59M  $11.8M 7.1%
Michael Bennett Eagles 2016  $30.5M  $10.2M 6.5%
Carlos Dunlap Bengals 2013  $39.4M  $7.9M 6.4%
Jerry Hughes Bills 2015  $45M  $9M 6.3%
Tyrone Crawford Cowboys 2015  $45M  $9M 6.3%

But what exactly does Hunter have to do to “justify” his salary? If we follow the next three years of his career, we’ll probably come away with some intuitive understanding of whether or not he met the expectations thrust upon him by fans.

That wouldn’t be fair to his contract, however. What expectations does a pass-rusher have when they consume 8.1 percent of their team’s cap space, historically?

One can look at the total number of adjusted pressures — which in this case means total pressures with a penalty for non-sack pressures, like hits and hurries — produced by a player in the three years following their second contract, as well as their PFF score and come up with rough equations to simulate both.

Below, we can see the “expected” performances from those players and the actual performances to see which ones outperformed their contract and which ones fell short.

Player Year % of Cap Exp Pressure Pressures +/- Exp PFF Grade Grade +/- Value Score
Cameron Jordan 2015 7.7% 119.5 56.8 20.7 26.9 124.5
Brandon Graham 2015 4.5% 104.4 53.1 12.2 26.5 123.6
Calais Campbell 2017 9.0% 41.3 17.7 23.2 31.8 118.9
Jabaal Sheard 2017 5.1% 35.9 15.6 14.0 27.8 116.5
Von Miller 2016 12.2% 88.6 38.9 28.3 22.5 118.7
Michael Bennett (2014) 2014 5.4% 109.2 45.6 14.9 7.8 114.4
Melvin Ingram 2017 9.6% 41.9 17.8 24.3 16.9 111.7
Everson Griffen (2014) 2014 6.4% 114.2 45.5 17.7 1.2 111.3
Everson Griffen 2017 8.7% 41.0 7.7 22.7 14.2 108.3
Carlos Dunlap 2013 6.4% 114.3 49.2 17.8 -5.5 107.1
Cameron Wake 2017 4.8% 35.4 13.9 13.2 2.5 103.8
Brian Orakpo 2015 5.4% 109.5 24.8 15.0 -5.0 102.3
Mario Addison 2017 4.5% 34.7 10.8 12.0 0.7 102.3
Chandler Jones 2017 9.9% 42.2 19.0 24.8 -0.3 103.5
Ryan Kerrigan 2015 8.0% 120.8 35.5 21.4 -9.7 102.2
Whitney Mercilus 2015 4.5% 104.4 -0.2 12.2 3.7 101.5
Danielle Hunter 2018 8.1% 121.1 21.6
Michael Bennett 2016 6.5% 76.6 11.9 18.1 -7.8 98.4
Terrell Suggs 2014 3.9% 100.0 -17.3 9.7 1.8 97.1
Olivier Vernon 2016 10.9% 86.4 11.3 26.4 -7.6 98.3
Cliff Avril (2015) 2015 5.0% 107.0 8.7 13.7 -8.8 97.2
Derrick Morgan 2015 4.7% 105.5 12.0 12.8 -13.5 95.6
Jerry Hughes 2015 6.3% 113.7 5.5 17.4 -12.0 95.0
Brian Robison (2014) 2014 4.2% 102.3 21.2 0.8 -18.7 95.3
Nick Perry 2017 7.1% 39.0 -11.3 19.4 -10.8 92.2
Justin Houston 2015 11.7% 131.7 -29.2 27.6 -2.5 92.6
Jason Pierre-Paul 2017 9.3% 41.6 1.1 23.8 -20.1 90.1
Andre Branch 2017 4.8% 35.3 -11.1 13.1 -22.7 86.4
Tyrone Crawford 2015 6.3% 113.7 -55.2 17.4 -10.6 83.3
Robert Quinn 2014 10.7% 129.1 -53.6 26.1 -24.5 76.9
Junior Galette (2015) 2015 7.2% 117.8 -89.3 19.8 -12.4 75.5
Clay Matthews 2013 10.7% 129.1 -61.8 26.1 -22.1 76.4

In order to flatly meet his contract’s value, Hunter should approximately put up 120 adjusted pressures over three years — which amounts to about 23 sacks — or only 40 adjusted pressures (eight sacks) per year. That amount would be a disappointment from the perspective of fan expectation, but would give the Vikings almost exactly what they paid for.

For context, that’s approximately the production of Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison over the past three years. If one only looks at Pro Football Focus grades, that’s the overall performance put up by Robert Ayers and William Hayes. A good approximation for a player who has met their contract value at around the price Hunter demanded is Ryan Kerrigan.

What is the likelihood that Hunter meets his contract?

Well, we can look at all pass rushers who debuted between 2006-15 to see where he ranks in terms of his three-year production to give us some idea.

The below table is sortable — like every table here — and the default sort is “disruptions per snap.” I’ve defined disruptions as an action that directly stopped a play, which in this case means sacks, batted passes and “run stops” — a tackle in the run game for a run that constitutes a loss for the offense. There’s also Pro Football Focus Grade and Pass Rusher Productivity, a PFF measure that takes all the pressures a player creates, adds a bonus for sacks, and divides by total pass-rushing snaps.

I’ve also included a “Sim Score” that ranks players according to how close they were to Hunter in the below categories (and a few others, like total snaps, total pressures and so on).

The lower the number, the closer a player’s first three years are to Hunter’s.

Name PFF Grade PRP Disruptions Disr/Sn SimSco
Aldon Smith 84.1 13.5 144 68.2 17.8
Danielle Hunter 29.2 10.5 114 64.4 0.0
Khalil Mack 174.1 12.3 183 61.1 42.2
Ezekiel Ansah 24.1 11.5 117 60.8 1.8
Von Miller 140.3 13.9 144 60.3 29.3
Justin Houston 60.8 11.8 148 59.0 6.3
Jason Pierre-Paul 59 8.1 134 58.8 3.2
Greg Hardy 34 9.4 111 53.5 2.9
Vic Beasley -4.1 9.3 90 53.0 3.8
Darryl Tapp 2.3 7.6 100 52.4 6.1
Robert Quinn 64.4 10.5 119 52.1 10.7
Lamarr Houston 33.8 9.1 119 51.8 4.6
Chandler Jones 17.5 8.6 123 51.3 3.7
Clay Matthews 56.2 11.4 138 51.0 8.3
Elvis Dumervil 6.8 10.4 85 48.9 6.0
Mario Williams 1.7 8.5 136 48.8 7.8
Anthony Spencer 30.4 9.9 87 48.7 7.4
Frank Clark 21.1 10.1 85 48.5 4.2
Ray Edwards 6.2 7.9 86 47.2 7.5
Jabaal Sheard 7.6 7.8 124 46.8 7.7
Ryan Kerrigan 5.4 9.8 146 46.4 12.3
Tamba Hali 3.9 9.2 124 46.0 8.2
Michael Johnson -12.6 5.7 78 44.7 16.4
Olivier Vernon 5.9 7.6 96 43.2 8.8
Preston Smith -12 8.5 88 43.1 10.0
Cliff Avril 14.8 8.9 73 40.8 10.4
Trent Murphy 19.1 9.4 77 39.4 10.7
Whitney Mercilus -27.9 7.9 90 39.3 16.4
Adrian Clayborn -12.7 8.5 71 38.8 15.2
Courtney Upshaw -3.6 5.8 75 38.5 24.9
Robert Ayers 1.4 6.6 67 37.3 21.4
Brooks Reed -10.1 7.2 88 36.1 19.2
Chris Long 10.7 8.9 90 35.3 14.7
Kamerion Wimbley -8.3 9.3 111 34.8 19.0
Derek Wolfe -12.6 5.7 77 34.6 23.4
Jamaal Anderson -37.1 5.3 70 33.2 33.3

Ranking second in disruptions per snap, 11th in PFF grade and 10th in total pressures, Hunter is well-positioned to do well based on measures that have done a good job predicting performance.

The closest players outside of Hunter’s draft class are Ezekiel Ansah, Greg Hardy, Jason Pierre-Paul, Chandler Jones, Lamarr Houston, Darryl Tapp and Justin Houston. That’s a pretty strong cohort, all things considered. Aside from Lamarr Houston — who played multiple seasons at defensive tackle — and Darryl Tapp, Hunter’s most similar players have had multiple double-digit sack seasons.

We know what Hunter’s overall expectations are and which players best matched his opening three seasons, and we can use this information to figure out if the players who followed his path ended up meeting the expectations set by his contract.

Once we exclude Hardy for off-field reasons and Justin Houston for switching positions, we have five players to compare Hunter to. That gives us 13 evaluable seasons — production from their fourth, fifth and sixth years in the NFL, minus a season from Justin Houston because of injury and Ansah because the 2018 season hasn’t been played yet — to compare Hunter’s contract expectations.

Six of those 13 seasons saw over 40 adjusted pressures. Seven of those fell short, including three from Tapp. Only five seasons met the PFF grade predicted by the salary cap hit, making it a harder target to hit. In addition to what his peers put together, Hunter himself hit those marks in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

The Vikings did an excellent job locking down promising young pass rusher Hunter for what is essentially a contract that demands slightly above-average production. Because of that, the Vikings are very likely to get value from their extension — if Hunter merely repeats his 2017 season, he’ll have met the demands of his salary.

Given his extraordinary ceiling and room to grow, he could shatter those expectations.


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