Superstar edge rusher Danielle Hunter might be the best player on the Vikings' roster, and they sorely missed him last year. A neck injury that was described as a "tweak" in training camp turned out to be a herniated disc that required surgery, costing Hunter the entire 2020 season. Without him, Minnesota's pass rush was one of the NFL's worst.
Normally, the conversation about a star player returning from a major injury would be all about that player's recovery and whether or not they'll be able to perform at their usual level in the upcoming season. But the situation with Hunter has been more dramatic than that, thanks to some interesting wording from NFL Network's Ian Rapaport in the tweet where he broke the news of Hunter's surgery.
The last two sentences of that tweet were pretty shocking to anyone who covers or follows the Vikings, as Hunter is under contract through the 2023 season. Hunter's current deal (which has an average annual value of $14.4 million) is a bargain for the Vikings considering his incredible production, so the assumption became that his camp leaked those demands to Rapaport. That, in turn, generated an ongoing conversation about Hunter's leverage to demand a raise as he comes off of a major surgery.
On Wednesday, GM Rick Spielman spoke to local reporters for the first time this offseason. He was asked point blank by Chad Graff of The Athletic about the Hunter contract situation. Here's how that went.
Graff: "There was an NFL Network report last fall that Danielle Hunter was going to want to be the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL or that he was going to want to be traded. Was that ever communicated to you?"
And that was all we heard on that specific topic.
For now, it doesn't sound like there's any reason to be worried about Hunter holding out or demanding a trade or anything like that. There's certainly a possibility that the Vikings will try to work something out with Hunter this offseason, perhaps giving him an extension that lowers his cap hit slightly in 2021 but adds a bunch of money to the remaining years of his contract. He's clearly worth a raise — Hunter recorded the second-most pressures in the NFL in 2019 but has a contract with an AAV outside the top 20 for pass rushers — but the injury situation complicates things a bit.
Still, it's a situation to monitor as the offseason officially gets going in a couple weeks.
As far as Hunter's recovery and rehab is going, he seems to be doing quite well. "I saw an Instagram picture of him yesterday," Spielman said. "He looked pretty good. Excited to get him here in the fold and get him going once we get started."
Hunter has been out on the west coast, working out with teammates like Eric Kendricks, Ifeadi Odenigbo, and Jaleel Johnson. Here's the IG picture Spielman referenced:
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