Danielle Hunter’s Hot Start Means Everything for Vikings Defense, His Pocketbook

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Vikings star outside linebacker, Danielle Hunter, has been wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks so far this season. With four sacks already in his pocket, Hunter ranks 1st in the NFL, tied with only TJ Watt (Steelers) as the league’s sack king entering week 3.

Danielle’s hot start, which also includes 9 solo tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 4 quarterback hits, has helped to breathe new life into a Vikings defense that struggled mightily last year. It’s a unit that, through two weeks, is showcasing significant improvements under the guidance of their new defensive coordinator, Brian Flores.

The Vikings currently rank 8th in the NFL in pass yards allowed (340). Yes, there is a lot of context left out of that ranking but there’s no doubt that, so far, we’ve seen a monumental improvement from Minnesota’s pass defense, compared to last season’s bottom-five atrocity.

Related: Brian Flores Wants Danielle Hunter to Stay with Vikings

Danielle’s consistent pressure has made opposing quarterbacks antsy and it’s allowed an inexperienced Vikings’ secondary some much-needed breathing room.

Danielle Hunter contract incentives + future implications

What makes Hunter’s performance even more intriguing is the lucrative contract extension he secured this offseason. Hunter has the opportunity to earn an additional $3 million through performance incentives, based solely his sack count.

The Vikings and Danielle Hunter reached a compromise for the final year of his contract, boosting his guaranteed compensation up to $15.5 million, with the potential to earn another $1.5 million in game-day roster bonuses. None of that includes his $3 million in sack incentives. All together, his one-year contract maxes out at $20 million.

Danielle starts cashing in on his sack incentives as soon as he gets to 11 sacks. At his current rate, he’ll reach that mark in week 6 and collect all $3 million by week 7.

  • 11 Sacks — $1 Million
  • 12.5 Sacks — $1 Million
  • 14 Sacks — $1 Million

At two sacks per game, Hunter is on pace to finish the 2023 season with an astonishing 34 sacks. To put this into perspective, the 49ers’ Nick Bosa led the league in sacks last season with 18.5. If he stays healthy, could Danielle Hunter challenge the NFL’s all-time sack record of 22.5, held jointly by Michael Strahan and TJ Watt.

As part of his new deal, the Vikings agreed not to use the franchise or transition tags on Hunter next offseason, granting him an uninhibited opportunity to explore free agency, come March. So sure, Danielle’s future in Minnesota remains uncertain, but even if the Vikings find themselves out of the playoff race later this season, dealing Hunter before the trade deadline could bring in valuable draft capital.

Related: Vikings Acquire Cam Akers in Trade with Rams

How will Hunter fair vs Chargers?

Hunter’s productive start to 2023 may attract more attention from opponents, going forward, but that’s a double-edged sword. In theory, that should open doors for other pass rushers on the team, ultimately making the Vikings’ defense more respectable as the opposing offense diverts resources to counter the threat of Hunter bombarding opposing quarterbacks.

danielle hunter sacks 2023 minnesota vikings
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings are set to face a Los Angeles Chargers offensive line that has already conceded six sacks, for a loss of 53 yards. There’s no doubt Danielle is licking his chops, expecting to continue the best start to a season, of his career.

Danielle Hunter’s journey is a testament to resilience and determination, and his pursuit of excellence is undoubtedly one of the standout stories of the NFL season. As he inches closer to etching his name into Vikings history, fans eagerly await each game to see if he can maintain his incredible pace and continue to dominate the league in sacks.

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Dominique Clare | Minnesota Sports Fan

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