The San Francisco 49ers May Come Calling for a Hunting Hand

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers
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Brock Purdy is playing like a QB1.

Fresh off a decisive beatdown of the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, Purdy is completing 72.1% of his passes while piling up 1,271 yards, 9 TDs, and 0 INTs. The San Francisco 49ers are thus in the driver’s seat in the division and, perhaps, the NFL more broadly. Put simply, Kyle Shanahan has his team playing incredible football.

Aug 25, 2023; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) runs for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

While there has been no shortage of speculation about Kirk Cousins one day joining forces with Shanahan, Purdy’s strong play all but nullifies that potential. The Vikings will need to find a new suitor (Patriots? Steelers? Jets?) if they’re interested in offloading their well-paid QB1.

What remains possible, though, is a deal involving Danielle Hunter. For a variety of reasons, the Vikings and 49ers could actually do business if the season continues trending in its current manner.

The San Francisco 49ers and Danielle Hunter

Before becoming a Viking, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was a 49er. He knows the organization well, respecting many of the people in their building. Safe to say the respect goes both ways.

Feb 28, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo‐Mensah during the NFL combine at the Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Right now, the 49ers are sitting on a mountain of cap space: a league-leading $40+ million, per Over the Cap. San Francisco is a team that’s all-in on winning the Super Bowl and it has the financial wherewithal to pull off basically any move it desires. The budget can easily digest a chunky cap hit (and still have room to spare).

Back in July, Hunter’s ongoing presence in Minnesota wasn’t a sure thing. He was staging a hold-in as training camp began to unfold. The GM, though, came to a sensible solution by bringing the edge rusher around to enhanced compensation for a single season.

Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Rachaad White (1) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) and defensive end Dean Lowry (94) and linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (40) as guard Luke Goedeke (67) attempts to block during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The long and strong pass rusher is carrying a cap hit a touch below $21 million. That is, of course, a huge cap charge but one that SF would be well-equipped to inherit, especially since a pile of the pass rusher’s compensation will stay behind on Minnesota’s cap.

And while Shanahan and Purdy deserve credit for maximizing the plethora of impressive weapons — Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk — the defense is arguably even more impressive.

Allowing an average of just 13.6 points against per game, the 49ers boast the league’s best defense. They’re led by high-end talent that includes Javon Hargrave, Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and Fred Warner. What happens if you tossed Hunter into that mix? Would there be a team capable of slowing down that pass rush?

Jan 29, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) throws a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter in the NFC Championship game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

On October 29th, Danielle Hunter will turn 29. He’s still playing football at a high level, picking up 6 sacks and 9 TFLs through Minnesota’s opening five games. The issue simply rests in how much longer he’ll be able to maintain that production and how much it will cost to keep him in town.

Prying away a 1st seems unlikely unless there’s a vigorous bidding war taking place behind the scenes (though the Chase Claypool for the 32nd pick reminds us that anything is possible). What’s more likely is a 2nd, a pick that still contains significant value.

For the record, I’m of the opinion that Minnesota would be wise to sign him to a new deal, keeping him in town well into his 30s. Examples like Von Miller, Cameron Jordan, and Brandon Graham have proven that the NFL does allow for older edge rushers to continue thriving as their 30s march on. What remains to be seen, though, is whether Minnesota’s leadership agrees with the widespread desire to keep Hunter in The State of Hockey.

Hunter is a player capable of propelling a team toward success in the here and now. The Vikings are nowhere close to achieving meaningful team success in the here and now.

Aug 3, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) during training camp at TCO Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

All things considered, pass rusher is one of the easier positions to integrate into a team midseason. At the very least, Hunter can be lined up along the edge on passing downs. Tell him to pin his ears back as he gets after the QB and then build up his knowledge of the playbook from there.

Shanahan won’t be putting his offense through major changes as long as everyone stays healthy. What’s far more likely is a desire to beef up the defense a bit more, bringing in a player who can pursue the QB.

Losing in Week 6 to the Chicago Bears would mean the Vikings’ season is fully done. Not in a technical sense, no, but certainly in a way that speaks to the reality of the situation. Minnesota will then take on San Francisco on Monday Night Football, a contest that will almost certainly lead to a brutal beatdown for Kevin O’Connell’s squad.

Afterwards, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah may feel compelled to see if teams around the NFL are interested in his best defender. The San Francisco 49ers appear to be an excellent fit in the Danielle Hunter sweepstakes.

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

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.