Vikings

Why Danielle Hunter's Holdout Feels Different

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

As expected, Danielle Hunter is not attending any of the Minnesota Vikings’ offseason programs until he receives a new contract or the Vikings restructure his current one. Hunter is set to make only $5.5 million in 2023, which is also the final year of his deal. Obviously, that amount of money would be far too little for a premier pass rusher. Thus, he began the holdout.

It’s practically become an off-season tradition for Danielle Hunter to be upset with his contract. After racking up 25.5 sacks during his first three seasons in the NFL, Hunter inked a five-year, $72 million deal that kept him in Minnesota through 2023. This type of contract, paying a young player under market value early, was becoming a Rick Spielman staple. He did the same thing with players like Stefon Diggs. Over time, both of these players would outproduce their contracts and request more money. Hunter posted back-to-back 14.5-sack seasons while becoming the youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 career sacks.

However, the drama began in the 2020 season. The Vikings restructured Hunter’s deal early in the offseason by converting his base salary into a signing bonus. However, as training camp rolled around and the season was upon us, Mike Zimmer told the media that Hunter had a “tweak” on his neck. Of course, this “tweak” forced Hunter to miss the entirety of the 2020 season, which complicated things for Spielman and Co.

Hunter’s 2021 season began with a holdout from off-season activities due to his contract. In June, the Vikings alleviated Hunter’s displeasure by restructuring his contract to provide him with a $5.6 million signing bonus. Spielman also added two void years and spread that bonus across five years, giving him an $18 million roster bonus that would trigger in March 2022. To sum up, Hunter got some short-term money while the Vikings pushed back any long-term decisions and saved some cap space.

The season started, and Hunter looked dominant. He recorded six sacks in his first five games. However, in Week 8, Hunter tore his pectoral muscle, and the Vikings ruled him out for the season.

There was also some buzz that the Vikings were considering a Hunter trade last year. However, those talks never came to fruition. Instead, the Vikings tampered with Hunter’s contract again to make cap space for Za’Darius Smith. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah converted his $18 million roster bonus to a signing bonus, spreading that money across the two remaining years on Hunter’s deal and the two void years. The move created cap space and put some cash in Hunter’s wallet earlier.

Hunter had a great 2022 season, accruing 10.5 sacks and 70 pressures, according to PFF. But his performance has made Hunter unhappy with his contract again. Hunter knows he is worth far more than the $5.5 million the Vikings will pay him this year. Not to mention that Minnesota has paid Hunter under market value ever since he entered the league. But now, with just one season left on his contract, his holdout feels much different.

The Vikings won’t release Hunter. There is another $11.2 million in bonus money spread across the two void years on his contract, so releasing him would simply accelerate dead money onto the cap, and the team would lose a star player.

That leaves the Vikings with two solid options: extend or trade him. Recently there has been a lot of speculation that they’ll trade him. However, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, Minnesota “would prefer to retain him,” and it would take a substantial package for the Vikings to let Hunter go.

Do not mistake this situation for that of some of the other veterans the Vikings lost this offseason, like Dalvin Cook, Eric Kendricks, Adam Thielen, etc. When healthy, Hunter is one of the NFL’s most imposing and dominant defensive ends.

The argument for the Vikings to trade Hunter? For starters, the team only has five picks in the 2024 draft, and a trade would undoubtedly provide a haul of high selections. Trading Hunter would also signify a commitment to a rebuild. Hunter has been a cornerstone for the Vikings for several years, and there is no obvious replacement behind him on the depth chart.

An extension is the final option. In a PFF article, Brad Spielberger projected a three-year, $67.5 million extension with $37.1 of that guaranteed. That deal would place Hunter as the sixth-highest-paid pass rusher in the NFL. At 28 years old, Hunter is likely nearing the end of his prime and looking to cash in one more time before retiring.

“We feel very strongly about being solution-oriented with everything that comes about,” O’Connell said at mandatory minicamp on Tuesday. “This is an example, just like many others that have come up. We hope to have continued dialogue and have a really positive outcome.”

Hunter’s contract situation may reach a conclusion soon, according to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association, Hunter will be fined $16,459 for the first day, $32,920 for the second day, and $49,374 for the third day he is absent from mandatory minicamp — a total of nearly $100,000.

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