September 28, 2023

If Hunter follows Cook behind the door of the Vikings, watch out

An offseason of sweeping changes continued this week as the Vikings cut ties with running back Dalvin Cook, who is expected to be gone before next week.

And The Purple may not be done making moves – including a potential deal that would see their off-season rebuild officially lead to a complete teardown of the studs.

Danielle Hunter, who had 10.5 sacks last season and has 71 since being called up by the team in 2015, could be traded. This would be a step no one saw coming, while at the same time it was inevitable.

The reason for the breakup? You guessed it: money.

Hunter is an accomplished pass-rusher who will cement that reputation under new Secretary of Defense Brian Flores. Flores is a genius at combining talent and scheming to confuse opponents. Hunter, in the prime of his life at 28, could have a career year if he stays healthy.

Hunter will earn $4.9 million in 2023 as part of a five-year, $72 million contract he signed in 2018. That unequal contract, which earned him $20 million last season, has since been restructured twice. We can all agree that Hunter is better than a $4.9 million player. He probably feels like he’s been more valuable than the $14.4 million annual averages, especially when some top edge rushers are now getting more than $20 million per season. Is Hunter worth Myles Garrett’s money in the future? No. A neck injury in 2020 and a chest tear in 2021 cost Hunter 25 games, making health a consideration. But he has an argument for a pay rise.

The NFL Network reported that the Vikings are returning phone calls about Hunter because the parties have been unable to reach a deal for an improved contract. The team’s cap situation, a challenge since the end of last season, would become trickier if a long-term deal is struck. They have short term Kirk Cousins ​​and want to lock up Justin Jefferson for the long term.

Vikings fans will already see a very different team in 2023, with Cook, Eric Kendricks, Adam Thielen, Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Tomlinson and Za’Darius Smith all playing elsewhere.

The deal with Hunter would complete more extensive restructuring than anyone expected. Just as Aaron Rodgers leaves the division, giving the Vikings a chance to rule the NFC North for a few seasons, their roster of a 13-4 season is torn apart.

And trading Hunter would be a bigger blow than firing Cook.

Cook had a $14.1 million cap hit heading into his 28-year season. He averaged 69 yards in 2022, a career low. Cook is paid to be a bell cow running back in a competition where bell cows are being driven to extinction.

Alexander Mattison has supported Cook since 2019, when he was 21, and has averaged 4.1 yards per carry. About to turn 25, Mattison doesn’t have much wear and tear on him and can catch passes from the backfield. He’s more of a north-south runner, but he doesn’t have to carry the load. Slingin’ Kirk Cousins ​​will be looking for Jefferson, TJ Hockenson, Jordan Addison and KJ Osborn as much as possible. Mattison is a reasonable alternative to Cook.

Hunter and Smith combined for 20.5 sacks last season. Tomlinson added 2.5 pockets from the interior. That’s 23 of their 38 bags. Free-agent signing of Marcus Davenport, who had half a sack in 15 games last season, is not an adequate substitute for the three-time Pro Bowler Hunter.

There are many unanswered questions on the way to training camp. Can Brian Asamoah replace Kendricks? Can Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans replacing two corners in Peterson and Duke Shelley who were in the top 12 by Pro Football Focus? How will Lewis Cine contribute?

If the Vikings fail to make a deal with Hunter and trade him, the follow-up question is easy to answer: No, they don’t have a replacement for him.

The Chicago Bears had a record low of 20 sacks last season. How did that defense fare? Now imagine the Vikings without a pass rush.

Pack a lunch, Coach Flores, when Hunter gets traded.

For everyone else, it’s time to adjust your already lowered expectations for the 2023 season.

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