The Estimated New Contract for Danielle Hunter is … Surprisingly Cheap

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

Danielle Hunter isn’t among the NFL’s true top level of pass rushers, but he’s one small step below. Leading the charge are guys like Micah Parsons, Myles Garrett, Nick Bosa, and T.J. Watt. Hunter is close to being in that tier, but he’s a step below (as the All Pro results further underscored).

Even still, the projection from PFF’s cap wizard — Brad Spielberger — is surprising.

The educated guess is that Mr. Hunter will put pen to paper for a three-year deal that comes to a total of $65 million. Breaking that down into an annual average (as unhelpful as that can be) means Hunter’s projected contract would be $21.67 million per season. At that rate, Hunter would be coming in as the NFL’s 10th-highest paid edge rusher, per annual average.

Do The Vikings & Danielle Hunter Agree on a Manageable Contract?

Let me be the first to say that I believe Brad Spielberger does solid work. Genuinely, the guy does really good stuff. Let me then say that he’s misguided in his contract projection.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Nov 27, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) warms up before the game against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Before getting too far into that thought, let’s give Spielberger the microphone. He lists Minnesota’s defender as the 12th-best pending free agent. Consider what he has to say:

Hunter has been a revelation in new defensive coordinator Brian Flores’ blitz-heavy scheme, though he was just as productive in 2022. Teams that run a 3-4 or 4-3 could probably find a way to effectively deploy Hunter, and injury concerns of a few years ago seem like distant memories.

Thankfully, the injuries are something that most Vikings fans have forgotten (as Spielberger suggests). A pair of seasons working under the Kevin O’Connell coaching staff has led to a pair of fully healthy — and productive — seasons for Mr. Hunter.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Oct 29, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) strip-sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love (10) in the game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Tork Mason-USA TODAY Sports

Consider what Hunter has been able to do over these past couple seasons:

YearGamesSnapsTacklesSacksQB HitsTFLsFFPFF Grade
2022179066510.52212187.1 (7th)
2023171,0068316.52223478.0 (31st)

Now, why the insistence that Hunter is going to get more cash than what the PFF piece suggests? Well, the recent comparables within the division suggest as much.

Green Bay extended Rashan Gary – who is 26 – until 2027 on deal that carries a $24 million average. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Montez Sweat – who is 27 – signed a deal that will keep him in the Windy City through the 2027 season. His contract comes alongside a $24.5 million average.

See where this is going?

Nov 23, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) fumbles the ball while being hit by Green Bay Packers linebacker Rashan Gary (52) in the first quarter at Ford Field. Goff’s fumble was recovered by Green Bay Packers safety Jonathan Owens (34) and returned for a touchdown. Mandatory Credit: Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

In Minnesota, the Vikings could very plausibly opt for a contract that carries a $25 million average. Doing so would be an obvious nod toward those other deals in the NFC North while acknowledging that Hunter is better than both Gary and Sweat.

The sweet spot seems to be something within the range of three or four years. That kind of deals offers some long-term stability without being too wild of a commitment for Hunter, who will soon see a “3” in front of his age. A desire to see Hunter be kept around until 2027 – the critical year in the Gary and Sweat deals – would mean a four-year contract.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals
Dec 16, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jake Browning (6) throws under pressure from Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) in the third quarter at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer-USA TODAY Sports

If, in the end, Danielle Hunter is amenable to deal coming in below $22 million per season, the Vikings would be foolish to avoid re-signing him. Yes, his age is a factor and the GM will surely be factoring in the pair of past injuries, but Hunter has shown few (if any) signs of slowing down. Plus, edge rushers somewhat regularly find a way of being productive into their 30s.

In their sprawling, end-of-season press conference, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell spent some time discussing their star defender. The GM notes that there will be “a lot of factors” under consideration before praising Hunter for the way that he takes care of his body. The suggestion is that Minnesota is very interested in retaining him (an idea that shines through even more when Adofo-Mensah proceeds to praise Hunter’s on-field hustle and effort).

O’Connell even chimes in at the end, noting the “tremendous growth” from Hunter and the significance of being a team captain. Clearly, the coach and GM hold Mr. Hunter in high regard.

Currently, the Vikings are sitting on $26.6 million in cap space. If Hunter walks in free agency, Minnesota will be left with a dead money hit a bit beyond $14.9 million.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, 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.