Danielle Hunter’s contract extension from 2021 was sort of designed so that you do not understand it.
Resultingly, as the Minnesota Vikings inevitably clear cap space in the next three weeks, Hunter is tossed into discussions as a “will he stay or will he go” player. But the referendum on him is not about the money.
Conversely, quarterback Kirk Cousins is all about the money. New general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah must decide if Cousins is worth $ 33- $ 40 million per season as that amount is what a contract extension will entail. Cousins’ money is always fully guaranteed, and the opinion on him is very much about the money.
For Hunter, more nuance exists. To date, the only “money factor” truly pertaining to Hunter is the team-friendly deal he signed in 2018, which paid him $ 14.4 million annually. Back then – before he totally ascended to stardom – Hunter accepted a deal financially incongruent with the beast he became in 2018 and 2019.
When healthy, Hunter is worth significantly more than $ 14.4 million per season. Yet, the problem as of late is availability. Hunter’s has missed 79% of all Vikings games since the start of 2020. That’s a lot.
Whether Hunter plays for the 2022 Vikings is based on the team’s opinion of his recent injury history. Luke Braun from Zone Coverage explained the Hunter contract in impressive detail last week:
“The Danielle Hunter contract is a genuine extension with a failsafe worked in. The Vikings had every intention of paying Hunter out in earnest. They just installed an eject button that they can hit this offseason if Hunter’s neck did not hold up. That’s all you need to know. […] If you think the only two options are to pay Hunter $ 26 million or lose him, you’re simply not thinking creatively enough. It is not an ultimatum. And, crucially, Hunter has already accepted this situation. Restructure or trade, Hunter’s seeing that money, and he can walk away happy. It’s just a matter of how the Vikings choose to organize their books. ”
Luke Braun | Zone Coverage
If there is any ultimatum whatsoever, the Vikings hold it in a self-inflicted way. Do we want to pay this guy top dollar even though he missed gobs of time for two straight years? – is the Hunter-related question to ponder.
Hunter’s cap hit in 2022 is $ 26 million. That is the seventh-highest cap hit next season among all EDGE rushers. The “respect” is there, at least in terms of cap hit. Hunter was underpaid in 2018 and 2019, but after the extension last year, Minnesota is easing into paying Hunter according to the open market demand.
Before free agency, the Vikings defense is not in good shape for personnel. Cameron Dantzler is the only startable cornerback under contract at the moment. The “other” EDGE rusher is DJ Wonnum, who is decent, but probably not a cornerstone franchise. Anthony Barr may not return. Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith are older dudes. After that, the defense needs help. Trading Hunter could aid the team in adding draft capital to rebuild the defense. Otherwise, Adofo-Mensah can build the defensive trenches around Hunter – a marvelous idea when Hunter is healthy.
But the choice is fundamentally about keeping Hunter after two seasons of malady injury. It is not is the football player worth this. He is. The Vikings already maestroed the contract as such.
Trade an injury-prone player at a point when he can fetch a handsome trade sum – or cross fingers that he remains healthy. That’s the either-or on Hunter.
Do not panic about the money.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).