When a report leaked that Danielle Hunter wanted to become the NFL’s highest-paid defensive end, the situation could’ve turned ugly. After watching Joey Bosa, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Myles Garrett get more than $100 million in their extensions it made sense that Hunter wanted new money.
With Minnesota pressed against the cap, their best option was to reach a compromise. That’s exactly what happened on Monday when Hunter and the Vikings agreed to a restructured contract.
For the Vikings, working something out with Hunter was pivotal to their success this season. Minnesota was caught flat-footed when Hunter went down with a neck injury in training camp last season, and his absence was a major factor in the worst defense Mike Zimmer has ever had. Yannick Ngakoue, who played in only six games for the Vikings, led the team in sacks, so Hunter’s return was a big part of the equation for a defensive rebound.
While the Vikings needed Hunter, they also couldn’t afford to give him an extension. This goes beyond their salary cap issues. They need to find out how Hunter has recovered from his neck injury. If Hunter isn’t the same player, the Vikings would be foolish to dole out $100 million and would have another big contract to work around over the next several seasons. But that’s where it works out for both sides.
Hunter will get an extra $5.6 million converted into a signing bonus for this season in the short term. While it doesn’t give him long-term security, he’ll have the chance to earn it with a strong performance in 2021.
Hunter’s new contract carries an $18 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the league year in 2022. According to Spotrac, the Vikings had $15.3 million in cap space before Hunter’s restructure. This bonus creates a prove-it year for Hunter, and if he is fully recovered, it creates an interesting scenario for the Vikings.
If Hunter can replicate his output from the 2018 and 2019 seasons, it’s a good idea for the Vikings to pay him. With Anthony Barr’s contract and multiple one-year deals coming off the books next offseason, Minnesota has some cap space to maneuver with and now have a full year to work out an extension.
An extension isn’t the only option the Vikings have. With teams desperate for pass rushers, the Vikings could find a trade partner that would give them more assets in the draft. Should Hunter put up the season he’s capable of, he’ll find the money somewhere, and that could help the Vikings build an even stronger foundation for the future.
Either way, both sides are going to get what they want in 2021. Hunter has more money and a chance to get a big contract next offseason. The Vikings get their star pass-rusher back and a bevy of options next offseason. It’s the way a compromise should work in the NFL, and hopefully, it will lead Minnesota back into relevance.