The Minnesota Vikings are not messing around when it comes to extending their window as the NFL's next great defense, and have used this offseason to lock down another key cog in Mike Zimmer's dangerous unit, signing Danielle Hunter to a contract extension.
The Vikings have announced the deal, although they did not disclose terms. According to Tom Pelissero of NFL Media, the deal is a five-year contract worth about $14 million per season.
Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, the contract is worth a total of $72 million and features $40 million in guarantees with a $15 million signing bonus.
Take Ezekiel Ansah and Demarcus Lawrence off the list -- both are making $17 million this year on the franchise tag -- and that would easily be top-10 money for Hunter among defensive ends. Olivier Vernon leads the way ($17 million per year) followed by Jason Pierre-Paul ($15 million), Calais Campbell ($15 million) and Hunter's teammate Everson Griffen ($14.5 million). Robert Quinn of the Dolphins is also over $14 million per year in terms of annual salary.
Hunter is an interesting case, because he is VERY young. He was a third-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, taken 88th overall by Minnesota, but he is only 23 years old. He "only" has 25.5 career sacks as well in his three season but he hasn't really been a full-time starter either. Unleashed off the edge on a non-rotational basis, he could become an absolute monster and challenge for Defensive Player of the Year honors, especially with Griffen lined up across from him (Griffin was in the discussion last year). Having Linval Joseph and Sheldon Richardson on the interior is going to make the Vikings pretty terrifying for other quarterbacks. Good luck slowing them down.
Minnesota is talented at every level too -- the secondary features lockdown corner Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith, who might be the best safety in football. Trea Waynes quietly began to emerge last year as a second corner too. The linebacker group includes Anthony Barr (a franchise-tag candidate after this season who might actually end up hitting free agency) and Eric Kendricks, .
Most people will probably answer the Jaguars when pressed about the best defense in football over the next three years, but you can easily make a case for choosing the Vikings.
Next three years, which team's DEFENSE would you rather have:— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) June 27, 2018
Hunter is a big reason why -- they have a dynamic pass rusher who they just gave more than $70 million due to his production his first three years in the NFL and he's four years away from hitting his physical prime. That's terrifying for just about anyone who has to play against the Vikings.
It also feels like this could ultimately end up looking like the Brandon Graham extension the Eagles handed out a few years back. That surprised some people, because of Graham's statistical production, but it ended up being a really smart move by Philly, because it correctly predicted Graham would explode and it kept their cost on a premiere pass rusher submerged.
Should Hunter break out for a massive season (15+ sacks), he could easily command more than anyone else on the market. Kudos to Rick Spielman for locking up another key piece of his young defense. With Kirk Cousins in the fold for at least three years, the Vikings have a very nice Super Bowl window pried open.