Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter didn’t say much across the months in which NFL analysts bandied his name about in various trade rumors.
On Thursday, November 2, the star edge-rusher explained why.
“I’ve had people talk to me about that, but it was never really anything in the back of my head. I was always going to be here,” Hunter told reporters in front of his locker. “There’s always some stuff going on with that, and you don’t ask me, you ask the [general manager]. My job is to play football, and that’s why I’m here. I’ve always loved doing what I’m doing, so I don’t pay attention to outside noise.”
Danielle Hunter Having Career Year After Tense Contract Talks with Vikings Over Summer
Hunter’s tone didn’t indicate that he was upset by the rumors encircling him after the Vikings got off to a difficult 1-4 start. And it is hard to argue that dealing Hunter wasn’t a logical path forward at the time.
The Vikings will still need to navigate Hunter’s unrestricted free agency next spring and the odds are at least even money the franchise loses him then for nothing. Hunter made noise about wanting a trade or a new contract throughout the summer. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was willing to go no farther than to up the outside linebacker’s base salary from around $5 million to $17 million guaranteed in 2023, a figure that can rise to $20 million with incentives.
But then the Vikings staged a revival of their campaign, as quarterback Kirk Cousins led the team on a three-game winning streak. The math on Minnesota’s season changed dramatically, bumping its playoff chances to well above 50%, per ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). At that point, shopping the most successful pass-rusher in football through eight weeks no longer made sense for a franchise with a clear path to back-to-back playoff appearances amid a competitive rebuild.
Hunter is leading the NFL in sacks (10) and tackles for loss (12), per Pro Football Reference. He’s also generated 17 QB pressures, forced 3 fumbles and recorded 2 pass breakups. The NFL on Thursday named Hunter its NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October.
Loss of Kirk Cousins Impacted Vikings’ Decision not to Trade Danielle Hunter
With Cousins out the Vikings’ playoff chances have dipped back to 50.5%, as advanced metrics project them to win 8.5 regular-season games, per FPI.
An objective observer can analyze those numbers in two ways. The first is that Minnesota should have revisited the notion of a fire sale ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline, despite clawing its way back to 4-4. Quarterback is the most important position in sports, and Cousins was on his way to a third consecutive Pro-Bowl selection. Now that he’s gone, the Vikings’ postseason aspirations appear to have exited the picture with him.
The other perspective to take is that Minnesota’s already much-improved defense from last year must play even better to keep the team competitive through a stretch of winnable games against opponents like the Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears and Las Vegas Raiders.
Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell traded for Arizona Cardinals quarterback and NFL journeyman Josh Dobbs to compete with rookie Jaren Hall for the starting job. Career backup Nick Mullens is also eligible to return from IR in Week 10 and may enter the fray at that point.
Vikings Offense Getting Healthy as QB Competition Looms
With the return of All-Pro wide receiver Justin Jefferson to the active roster looming as early as Week 10, Minnesota should soon have its full complement of upper-echelon pass-catching talent available to whichever QB emerges as the new starter. That fact, combined with the Vikings’ strength of schedule over the next month-plus, rendered keeping Hunter a priority in Minnesota — if it wasn’t already.
And like everyone else in the world, Adofo-Mensah reserves the right to change his mind. Specifically, in this case, about a long-term deal for Hunter ahead of the 2024 offseason. The outside linebacker will turn just 30 years old next October and appears bound for his fourth Pro-Bowl selection in six years.
If Hunter wants to leave, however, there will be nothing the Vikings can do about it as part of his renegotiated deal exempts him from the franchise tag.