The Play Demands Pay: Extend EDGE1 Danielle Hunter

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Washington Commanders
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

How important is Danielle Hunter right now?

Shipping Za’Darius Smith to the AFC doesn’t exist in isolation. Sure, the deal involved a single, lonesome player but there is a broader ripple effect. Marcus Davenport steps into the spotlight and Luiji Vilain gets a better shot at a roster spot. Players like D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones II, and Andre Carter II all get a boost in their outlook.

Perhaps the main consequence, though, rests with Danielle Hunter.

Extend Danielle Hunter

After Justin Jefferson, Danielle Hunter is Minnesota’s most irreplaceable player. Put simply, there’s no one on the roster capable of filling the mammoth hole that would be present if he was lost for the season.

Elite edge rushers are supremely difficult to acquire. Getting one in the 3rd is sensational work from Minnesota’s former GM, scouts, and coaching staff.

ESPN Analyst Names Vikings Pass-Rushers the Best in the NFL
Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) celebrates the win after the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Last season’s overmatched defense would have been in dire straits if #99 wasn’t around. True, the overall group was very poor, but just imagine how dismal things would have been without him.

The 6’5″, 263-pound EDGE led the team with 10.5 sacks. When Smith took a step back, Hunter took a step forward. He had very little help during the final weeks of the season and yet found a way to be productive.

Imagine what stingier coverage can do to help his sack numbers. The corners and safeties covering their men for just a beat longer could lead to Hunter getting home a few more times before the season reaches its end. Exemplary play – or even pretty good play – from Byron Murphy, Akayleb Evans, and Andrew Booth Jr. (among others) will allow the pass rusher to shine.

The point, folks, is that some Brian Flores magic could lead to a scarier Hunter in 2023. A second season as a 3-4 edge rusher and a defense that actually tries to hinder the passing game? Sounds like a recipe for Danielle to be even more impressive.

During the playoffs, he had 4 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 QB hits, and a sack. Danielle Hunter, in short, was one of the few defenders to show up while the Giants dropped 31 points on the Vikings (and at U.S. Bank Stadium no less).

At present, he’s coming with a $13.12 million cap hit. He’ll be a free agent in 2024 if an extension isn’t reached; neither side seems enthused about that reality. Instead, look for an extension (a possibility that’s receiving some chatter online).

Jul 29, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings outside linebackers Danielle Hunter (99) and Za’Darius Smith. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Tacking on more years to his deal has a chance of clearing more than $3 million off the books in 2023. That’s money that could be used in a variety of areas. Even taking some of that room to bring in an upside EDGE3 to give the team a trio of pass rushers for obvious passing downs seems like a wise approach.

Danielle Hunter, 28, has earned an extension. He’s getting closer to the end of his career but has proven to be very capable when he’s on the field. Rewarding him with a new deal is an approach that makes sense in the immediate as well as the longer-term.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.