Last season, with Danielle Hunter missing all 16 games, the Minnesota Vikings struggled like never before under head coach Mike Zimmer. Missing their top pass-rusher, the team went from ranking seventh (2.9) in the NFL in sacks per game to 28th (1.4). This year, with Hunter returning to the lineup, the Vikings ranked second in the NFL, averaging 3.0 per game. They also ranked eighth in pressure rate, according to Pro Football Reference, after being 29th the year before.
But wait, Hunter got injured in Week 8 and only played seven out of a possible 17 Vikings games this season. So, the Vikings have actually generated more pressure this season, without their top pass-rusher, does that make Hunter expendable?
Under contract through 2023, The Vikings don’t have to make a move here, but should they want to chase a franchise quarterback, a package of Danielle Hunter, Dalvin Cook, their first-round pick in 2022 (12th) plus their 2023 first-rounder could be as good as any other franchise can offer.
The best part? The Vikings may be able to part with all these potential cornerstones without losing a beat. In fact, if they have a chance to add a true face of the franchise in the form of a QB, ignoring a potential regime-changing trade would be foolish.
So who are some potential trade suitors for Danielle Hunter? To be truthful, it may be easier to list teams who wouldn’t be interested, but here’s four who absolutely would be.
Jacksonville Jaguars acquire Hunter to form tandem with Josh Allen
- Minnesota Vikings trade: Danielle Hunter
- Jacksonville Jaguars trade: 2022 second-round pick (33rd overall), 2022 fourth-round pick, 2023 fourth-round pick
The Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t have much success on either side of the ball in 2021. One way the Jags may try to supply Trevor Lawrence with a winning atmosphere is by spending a big chunk of what’s projected to be over $60 million in cap space. Or, they could use some of their draft capital being that they have five picks in the top 100 selections in 2022 to land an established player at a position of need.
As a team, the Jags had just 32 sacks, tied for the fifth-fewest in the NFL. Sure, they have the top pick and there are several pass-rushers like Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux available, but they could just as easily fall in love with another prospect or even entertain a trade down to acquire more assets. Especially if they knew they could land a proven player in a trade with another team.
While he’s not expected to be on the block, a Danielle Hunter trade shouldn’t be completely ruled out as the Vikings enter a new regime with a new general manager and head coach. Not to mention the potential cap savings, which could be useful as they look to add pieces in the secondary, or retain some of their own pending free agents such as Anthony Barr.
- Danielle Hunter contract (2022): $25.9 million cap hit, $14.6 million in savings if traded
The trade may seem light on compensation for one of the league’s best pass rushers and it likely is should he actually be offered to the highest bidder. At the same time, Hunter has missed 26 games in the past two seasons, the Vikings are more experienced playing with him than without him as of late. But I still wouldn’t rush into a deal, he’s a special player when healthy and a contract extension is more likely.
New York Jets solve pressure problems with elite edge-rusher
- Minnesota Vikings trade: Danielle Hunter, 2022 first-round pick (12th)
- New York Jets trade: 2022 first-round pick (10th), 2022 second-round pick (via Carolina) (38th), 2022 fourth-round pick, 2023 sixth-round pick
Like many teams, the New York Jets don’t have an elite pass-rusher. Quinnen Williams and John Franklin-Myers cause some havoc inside, but they need more help after tying for the team lead with six sacks in 2021. The Jets could address the position with one of their two top-10 selections in the draft, but if they found a way to land a sure thing, they would probably prefer option B.
Danielle Hunter is as close to a sure thing as they get. Despite missing some more games than some would like, he’s not suddenly going to forget how to drill the quarterback. In seven games last season, Hunter had six sacks. Just based off their player stats alone this season, Hunter would be among the team leaders. In other words, the Jets would likely leap at the opportunity to add Hunter, as most teams would.
- Danielle Hunter stats (career): 60.5 sacks, 73 TFL, 6 FF, 4 FR, 1 safety
The Vikings may want to move up the draft board while collecting more assets along the way. Who knows how the new front office wants to retool the roster, but having more draft picks never hurts. Landing the fourth pick from the Jets would be ideal for the Vikings (Kyle Hamilton), but it might be a reach as the Jets look to keep building around Zach Wilson.
Baltimore Ravens boost defense with Danielle Hunter trade
- Minnesota Vikings trade: Danielle Hunter
- Baltimore Ravens trade: 2022 first-round pick (14th)
Last season there were plenty of rumors surrounding the Baltimore Ravens adding yet another great defender to their core in the form of a Danielle Hunter trade when Orlando Brown Jr. was searching for a new team. Wink Martindale was able to add Odafe Oweh in last year’s draft and he offers true potential, but this is the Ravens we’re talking about. They need more than one ferocious pass-rusher.
Two of their players on the edge are set for free agency with Justin Houston and Calais Campbell, and they ranked ninth in sacks and pressure rate this season with those two healthy. Unfortunately the secondary was not healthy and that likely impacted their ability to get after QBs. The Ravens likely have more pressing needs than sparing their first-round selection, but Danielle Hunter doesn’t come along often.
Minnesota would be adding another first-round selection for their next GM’s first draft, giving them the option to improve their roster in a multitude of ways.
Minnesota Vikings acquire Deshaun Watson by trading Hunter
- Minnesota Vikings trade: Danielle Hunter, Kirk Cousins, Alexander Mattison, 2022 first-round pick (12th), 2023 first-round pick
- Houston Texans trade: Deshaun Watson
Saving the best for last, the Vikings likely have the ammo to shock the world by trading for Deshaun Watson, if they wanted to. Watson was most linked to the Miami Dolphins, but after the firing of Brian Flores, who knows what they have in store. Plus, Tua Tagovailoa led them on a six-game winning streak once the trade deadline passed, he may have won over the locker room.
The Texans don’t have a franchise quarterback without Watson, though Davis Mills did a fine job in cleanup duty. They also don’t have many pieces on either side of the ball that are game changers. But Danielle Hunter could change that in a hurry. Landing Kirk Cousins to bridge the gap isn’t so bad either when they truly don’t have a better option. Maybe they like someone in the draft, or maybe they want to keep rolling with Mills a bit longer, Cousins gives them that option while giving them a better chance to win a few more ballgames next year.
- Kirk Cousins contract (2022): $45 million cap hit, $35 million in savings if traded
Entering a new offseason with new head coaches in 1/4 of the NFL, it’s truly up in the air where Watson will suit up next. If he’s looking at situations that may need a franchise QB, the Vikings have to look awfully enticing. Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Irv Smith, and Dalvin Cook are a fine starting point. Should the organization go with an offensive-minded head coach, it likely boosts their odds even more.