Do the Vikings have another Stefon Diggs situation on their hands with a superstar player? It's too early to go that far, but the buzz around Danielle Hunter's unhappiness with his situation can't be ignored.
On Friday, a couple days after Vikings GM Rick Spielman denied being told that Hunter wanted to be the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL or be traded, Hunter liked three different tweets about being traded. The question to Spielman stemmed from an Ian Rapaport tweet last October where the NFL insider insinuated that those were Hunter's demands.
It may not seem like much, but this should be taken seriously. Last offseason, Diggs used Twitter to force himself out of Minnesota. Hunter presumably isn't going to start firing off cryptic tweets, but he knew what he was doing by liking these tweets.
Hunter absolutely has a reason to want a raise. The five-year, $72 million deal he signed back in 2018 before truly blowing up is a massive bargain for the Vikings. His $14.4 million average annual value ranks outside the top 20 among NFL pass rushers. Yet, across 2018 and 2019, Hunter finished second in pressures (154, trailing only Aaron Donald) and third in sacks (29). He wants to be paid in the $25 million per year range like Joey Bosa, Myles Garrett, and Khalil Mack, and you can understand why.
The discussion of leverage here is an interesting one. Hunter is coming off of missing all of last season with a herniated disc in his neck that required surgery. With three years left on his contract and no guarantee that he'll return to his usual dominance after the injury, you'd think the Vikings would have the leverage. But Hunter's camp saw how horrendous Minnesota's pass rush was without their best player. They know the Vikings need Hunter, and they may want him to get paid before he steps on the field again. If his level of play goes down in 2021, that would diminish his leverage if they waited until next offseason to seek an extension or trade.
An extension could work out for both sides. The Vikings could add a few more years and a lot of guaranteed money to his current deal, while lowering his $17.75 million 2021 cap hit. They'd have to be confident in his medical situation to do that, but Hunter is the type of player you take risks on.
If the two sides can't agree on an extension — or if Hunter simply wants a new situation — trade talks could start to really heat up. The Vikings could likely get multiple first-round picks for Hunter like the Raiders did for Khalil Mack. A 26 year-old superstar pass rusher would generate an immense amount of interest on the trade market, even coming off of a major injury.
If the Vikings are going to end up in a situation where they're forced to trade Hunter, they'd want to do so before the NFL draft so they can use a first-round pick on his replacement. There's still a ways to go before that point, but this is a situation to keep an eye on as free agency begins later this month.
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