Danielle Hunter To Have Surgery on Herniated Disc, Officially Out For 2020 Season

Will Ragatz

What was assumed is now official: Vikings superstar defensive end Danielle Hunter won't play a single snap during the 2020 season. He's set to have surgery on the herniated disc in his neck that has caused him to be out since the team's first day of training camp in August, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapaport.

Hunter reported to camp this year feeling good and ready to build off of recording 54.5 sacks in his first five seasons, including 29.0 since the start of 2018. But he quickly was stalled due to shoulder pain, according to The Athletic. Mike Zimmer called the injury a "tweak" when asked why Hunter was suddenly not present at the team's practices. 

But after testing, the Vikings discovered a serious diagnosis: Hunter had a herniated disc in his neck and was eventually placed on injured reserve. In early October, he traveled to New York City to see a specialist and get a second opinion on how he should handle the injury and a potential return to football. There, doctors recommended that Hunter sit out for the remainder of the season. Surgery was one option, as was simply waiting and letting it heal.

Now, Hunter has chosen surgery that puts an end to any chances that remained of him returning to action for the Vikings in 2020. With the team sporting a disappointing 1-5 record, there was no reason for Hunter to risk pushing things and coming back too soon.

The latter part of Rapaport's tweet above is quite interesting. "[Minnesota] has a decision this offseason: Make Hunter the highest-paid defender in football or trade him. Have we seen the last of him in a Vikings uniform?"

Why that's so interesting is because Hunter is under contract through the 2023 season. A major insider like Rapaport obviously knows that, so perhaps he worded the tweet that way with input from Hunter's agent. When healthy, the 25-year-old LSU product is one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL, having become the youngest player to ever reach 50 career sacks. The five-year contract extension that he signed back in 2018, prior to really blowing up, is a massive bargain for the Vikings.

So yes, Hunter deserves a new deal that pays him what he's worth. But would the Vikings really give him an extension that makes him the highest-paid defensive player in the league right as he's returning from surgery on his neck? And on the flip side, would Hunter hold out and potentially demand a trade if the Vikings refused to do so? There's a lot of risk that would come with doling out a massive contract like that without seeing if he can be the same player post-surgery, and it doesn't seem like Hunter would have much leverage in that situation.

So we'll have to see what happens. But in the course of one day, the Vikings have officially lost one of their top edge rushers for the season and traded the other one away. The Vikings acquired Yannick Ngakoue from the Jaguars in late August in part because of Hunter's uncertain injury situation. They envisioned pairing the two together in 2020 and for years to come, provided they could sign Ngakoue to a new contract next offseason. Instead, early in a lost season, they elected to trade Ngakoue to the Ravens for a draft pick significantly less valuable than the one they spent to acquire him.

The Vikings will now go forward with Ifeadi Odenigbo, Jalyn Holmes, and rookie D.J. Wonnum at defensive end, making one of the league's worst pass rushes even less threatening. And they'll look forward to getting Hunter back in 2021, though it sounds like there's a possibility of some contract-related drama coming up on that front.

It's been a busy day for a Vikings team that doesn't seem to have a clear long-term direction right now.

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