Vikings Avoid Contract Dispute With Danielle Hunter

Danielle Hunter and the Vikings came to an agreement yesterday on a restructured contract which would get Hunter to report this year and end, for the time being, what had been an unhappy contract situation. While we do not have the full details on the new deal, based on reports we can piece a few things together and see why this was a pretty easy situation for the Vikings to get themselves out of.

I guess the first thing to understand is how we got here in the first place. If you are a podcast listener I went over this a few weeks ago but the short version is that Hunter took a way below market contract when he signed for $14.4 million a year in 2018. It was clear when he signed that it was a deal he would be unhappy with and by 2020 as the market turned to over $20 million a year for comparable players he was clearly unhappy with his deal. This was reported on last year and the noise became louder this offseason.

Hunter had no real leverage to negotiate a new contract at this stage. He had three years remaining on his current contract and almost no team ever rips up a deal with that many years left to negotiate a new contract. He also missed all of the 2020 season due to injury.

Occasionally when disputes like this come up the standard way to calm the situation is to move money up in the contract, basically borrowing from the anticipated “extension” year and moving it up into the “non-extension” season. This was done a few times with Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh and most recently with Stephon Gilmore in New England. The Vikings stopped a bit short of the same strategy but the concept remains the same.  

According to Nick Shook of NFL.com  the Vikings have $20 million committed to Hunter in 2022, $18 million of which will come as a roster bonus on the fifth day of the league year, which was first reported by Ian Rapoport. That would represent a $7.25 million potential raise in 2022 for Hunter over his current salary of $12 million. If the report is accurate it would seem as if the team converted most of Hunter’s 2022 salary into the roster bonus. The other part of the deal is that the Vikings took $5.6 million of his salary and paid it to him as a signing bonus.

The numbers all sound wonderful and that is what they are designed to do. Basically this was a crisis management episode for Minnesota and they did what they could to placate the situation. In reality nothing materially changes for them at all

Based on the report he did not a receive a raise this year at all. They simply opted to pay him a portion of his salary now (or whenever the bonus is paid) rather than during the year. While the money sounds huge next year and the bonus clearly gives Hunter the ability to test free agency rather than be forced to linger on a roster until the summer since it is a “pay me or cut me” decision date, the fact is Minnesota was almost always going to be in that position.

The Vikings have, historically, done extensions from their veterans with two years left on their contracts. Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, and Adam Thielen all received that treatment. Given that there was almost no way for the Vikings to wait out a decision beyond next year. They had an unhappy player on their hands already and if they refused next year after setting precedent with these others it was going to be a bad situation. So the Vikings were always going to have to make a decision about extending Hunter next year.

If Hunter played poorly this year he would have been cut or asked to take a pay cut. If he played well they were going to extend him. None of that changes because of an $18 million roster bonus.  Their decision matrix remains unchanged meaning they gave up next to nothing to get a player back happy with the organization.

As for the cap charges I also would not be concerned. I look at the $18M bonus as nothing more than a placeholder. My assumption is the Vikings will have the right to convert that to a signing bonus and may have added void years to help. The $5.6M signing bonus is an odd number if you divide it by 3, which is the remaining term of the contract. While some teams still do bonuses like that from time to time more often than not they choose bonus amounts that are neat and clean when prorated. $1.866 is not clean. However $1.4 million over 4 years and $1.12 million over 5 years are. So that is why I would guess that there are void years.

In any event they should be able to split that $18M up as $9M over two years as a worst case scenario which would probably put his cap number around $17.9M ($2M salary, $9M RB Proration, $5M SB1 and 2 proration, $1.87M SB proration). Currently its $17.75M so again no material change unless they don’t have the right to convert the roster bonus which certainly seem shortsighted if that were the case.

The new bonus is so small that it doesn’t add much more onto the cap charge if they cut him and if they don’t really do anything with the money except carry it over to next year that offsets that added cost if they release him next March.

Hunter didn’t really have any options here and the Vikings held most of the cards. I think this was a really good way for the team to handle this kind of situation. The player winds up happy even though the team’s position doesn’t change at all. Really a terrific job by Minnesota, assuming of course all the reported details are indeed correct.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @Jason_OTC