The Minnesota Vikings have given outside linebacker Danielle Hunter a hefty pay raise, paving the way for the team’s best pass rusher to participate in practice after a months-long contract stalemate.
The Vikings announced Sunday on their website that they reached a new deal with Hunter, the three-time Pro Bowler with 71 sacks who will turn 29 in three months.
Hunter reported to training camp last week on schedule after skipping the offseason program and mandatory minicamp, but he has yet to join his teammates on the field. Head coach Kevin O’Connell said Saturday that Hunter has been “in the building” and that they’ve been in “daily dialogue” about his physical and mental preparation.
“Danielle Hunter is a very special player, and as soon as we can get him out here, you guys will see him out here,” O’Connell said.
Hunter’s previous contract called for a $4.9 million base salary. He’ll make $17 million guaranteed this year with an opportunity to earn an additional $3 million in incentives, according to NFL Network. Hunter will still hit the free agent market after the season, unless he and the team strike a deal on an extension before then.
Hunter’s presence will be vital for a Vikings defense that has been one of the NFL’s worst over the past three years. They allowed the second-most yards and the fourth-most points in the league in 2022, despite decent production by their primary edge rushers. Hunter had 10.5 sacks, Za’Darius Smith had 10.0 sacks and backups D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones had 4.0 sacks apiece.
Smith was since traded to the Cleveland Browns in a cost-cutting move, leaving Hunter as the only proven pass rusher on the roster. Marcus Davenport was signed as a free agent to push for a starting spot, but this remains one of the biggest questions surrounding the team this season.
“I think Danielle’s a phenomenal player,” said defensive coordinator Brian Flores, who was hired to replace the fired Ed Donatell. “I look forward to working with him.”
Under Donatell, Hunter often found himself as a standup rusher in a three-point stance. The Vikings with Flores are aiming to get back to turning Hunter loose with his hand in the ground more often.
“Veteran players, they’ve seen a lot of defense, coverages, fronts, stunts,” Flores said. I think terminology will probably be the one thing that’s a little bit different, maybe, but some of it, there’s some crossover from some things he’s heard in the past, so I don’t think it’ll take long for him to get up to speed.
“At the end of the day, we’re telling him to go get the quarterback. There’s really not much to that. So I think he’ll be just fine.”
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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