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Monday Morning Mailbag: Outlook for Danielle Hunter, Offensive Line

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The schedule for the 2023 Minnesota Vikings Training Camp was released last week, and it will include two night practices, as well as the previously announced joint sessions with the Titans and Cardinals ahead of preseason games.

Back to Football Weekend will occur at the end of July, which means this week and next are the best opportunities for your staff to try to use some vacation time and recharge for the upcoming season.

We're planning to have a little less content this week than in most, and next week, our office is closed during the week of the Fourth of July, so Mailbag will take a week off, as well.

The Vikings weeklong closure is several years in existence. It was proposed in 2017 by former Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren and supported by the Wilf family. The policy has continued under current Chief Operating Officer Andrew Miller and is sincerely appreciated, particularly by those of us whose families live far away from Minnesota.

I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe Fourth of July. Feel free to keep sending in comments and questions, and I'll look forward to publishing another Mailbag on July 10.

In the meantime, I did want to pose a couple of questions …

Question: How do you welcome football back (Is there anything you look forward to every year/a point on the calendar where you say, 'Yep, it's time.')?

Question: Do you have any game-day rituals or superstitions you'd like to share?

I look forward to seeing your answers and relaying them.

With that, we'll start with what's likely to be the topic at the front of everyone's minds: the ongoing situation with Danielle Hunter, who is under contract but did not attend the mandatory minicamp or any of the voluntary offseason program.


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Is. Danielle. Hunter. Getting. Traded?

— Deb Fredericks

Any way we can do a sign and trade with Hunter for Chase Young?

— Joe Brading

We can't lose Hunter. It seems he's our whole defense. Please don't let him slip away. He's hard to replace, especially if we plan to go to the playoffs.

— Joe Lascala

Love Deb's emphasis on every word. Hunter is interested in securing a long-term contract before turning 29 in October.

The Vikings have said they want to be solution-oriented as they work through the apparent impasse with the three-time Pro Bowl edge rusher. It appeared he worked his way through Minnesota's transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and was ascending late last season.

Now, the Vikings have a new system under Brian Flores that will incorporate some 3-4 base but also be multiple.

If the Vikings can't reach an agreement with Hunter, then one option would be trying to trade him.

Washington declined Young's fifth-year option for the 2024 season, so the No. 2 overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2023 season. Because he's under contract with another team, I can't really comment beyond that.

It seems Joe saw Hunter's play down the stretch last season and earlier in his career. We've seen what the Vikings have looked like in 2020 and 2021 without Hunter. Injuries cost him all but seven games during that stretch.

There are some key players who should be able to make an impact for the Vikings defense under Flores, but edge rushers are important for any defense.

Sacks aren't the end-all, be-all, but Minnesota already needed to trade Za'Darius Smith this offseason because he was unhappy with the contract he signed last year. That's 10 of Minnesota's 38 sacks from a year ago when Hunter led the team with 10.5.

D.J. Wonnum and Pat Jones II were next with 4.0 apiece.

Head Coach Kevin O'Connell spoke about Hunter during his final press conference of the offseason.

"The only thing I would just say is I've got all the respect in the world for Danielle as a player, a leader, a person on our team," O'Connell said. "Those situations, you know, I don't want to speak for [General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah], but we feel very strongly about being solution-oriented with everything that comes about.

"We hope to have continued dialogue and have a really positive outcome," he added.

O'Connell said he would "like to think" reaching an agreement for Hunter to stay in Vikings Purple is possible.

"When I say 'solution-oriented,' that is definitely one of the solutions that hopefully we can work toward," he said.

View the best photos of Vikings DL Harrison Phillips from the 2022 season.

I've been a Vikings fan from day one. Through the years, when the Packers won the division, the so-called experts the next season said, 'It's the Packers division to lose,' but when the Vikings win, nothing gets said about them being the ones to beat. Another thought on the loss to Atlanta back in '98, that game should have never gotten into overtime. Brian Billick wanted the Baltimore Ravens head coaching job, so they went too conservative so he wouldn't lose out on the coaching job.

— Herman Boltjes

It seems like pundits doubted the Vikings throughout the course of the 2022 season, despite Minnesota winning 13 games against NFL teams.

I'm not saying the team was without flaws that could cause concern/disbelief, but many Vikings fans perceived a slighting of their team in the national narrative.

Some flaws were present in the playoff game against the Giants, who seemed to benefit more from losing to the Vikings in the regular season than Minnesota gained from prevailing in that thriller.

The single-elimination nature of the NFL playoffs, compared to leagues that use multi-game series, is that there's such a reduced grace window for making mistakes. Not to take anything away from the way the Giants played in the Wild Card Round, but I also would have liked Minnesota's chances in a rubber match.

I also think the 1998 Vikings top the Falcons more times than not if those teams met multiple times.

I guess the framing of the division being Green Bay's to lose probably started with Hall of Fame QB Brett Favre and future Hall of Fame QB Aaron Rodgers. The Packers backed it up more times than not.

The Vikings are returning some really important players from a strong offense in 2022, even after bidding farewell to Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook.

Punditry didn't impact games last season, and I don't expect it will this season.

The key to any championship team is a strong offensive line. The Vikings have improved and have a fairly young group. Have you seen anything at training camp that makes you think they might be ready to move up to be considered one of the better units in the league?

— Gerald Goblirsch

It will be a few days into training camp before the pads go on and offer a more comprehensive assessment, but the Vikings are pleased with the amount of continuity that's returning among starters and reserves.

Christian Darrisaw is a player Vikings fans should be highly excited about, even if offensive line doesn't generate as many highlights. Brian O'Neill's progress in his recovery appeared on track and is quite encouraging.

The hope is that the interior, led by center Garrett Bradbury, and flanked by Ezra Cleveland and Ed Ingram, takes another step forward from their experience together.

The group will likely have a major role in the success of the team.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 7, 2024.

During my 30-year career, I worked in 46 different states and five Canadian provinces. It was an adventure and a learning experience in every city I resided and every state I worked in. So many different experiences, but two things were always the same. I attended church and I (listened to, watched and attended football games), no matter where I was.

I have three conclusions that I have come to believe, based on my observations. I would like hear your thoughts on each.

1) A football team is like any other organization in that it is only as strong as its weakest link. With the Vikings, I have to draw straws between the fan base and the media. No disrespect meant to either, but I had a home base in Kansas City for 10 years. I remember demonstrations by the fans, during that time period, demanding that Andy Reid be fired. And in fairness to the media, other than government, I believe that you have the most political jobs in the USA. I personally think you do a great job of navigating between what they want to hear and what they need to hear (which would have you looking for a new job, lol). I am surprised that many in the Vikings media aren't head coaches, with everything they think they know.

2) Money begets success, and there is never enough to go around, so you have to prioritize. Even though I do not always like their decisions, I believe that the Vikings organization is top notch and one of the best teams in navigating that fine line. If the fans don't like the personnel decisions that the Vikings make, they should agree to help and pay $1,250, like I did to attend a Patriots game in 2011. Just saying?

3) The greatest teams have the greatest community support, and I'm not talking about the price of tickets and other costs. We have some of the most charitable players and management in the game. Vikings fans get an A+ here, but we should increase our support even more, to the point that they have to turn people away! The old adage, don't tell me, show me lol.

— David in Rochester

Your career sounds like it was accompanied by an awesome adventure.

1) It's hard to believe that a segment of fans was calling for Reid's job at any point during his time with Kansas City. His "worst" showing was in 2014 when the Chiefs finished 9-7 in his second season.

Eight of his 10 seasons have included 11 or more victories, with each of the past five since Patrick Mahomes became a starter resulting in 12 or more wins in regular seasons.

Under the current climate, I think it's quite possible that Bud Grant, the most successful Vikings coach and one of the best to ever do it for any team, would have struggled to survive a 3-8-3 showing in his first season.

Fans and media definitely have plenty of information to shape their opinions, but so often the clamoring turns to the easiest and quickest route of firing a coach.

2) The commitments by the Wilf family since acquiring the team to bring a Super Bowl title to Minnesota have been among the strongest in the NFL, but the Vikings have not cleared that hurdle yet.

The Vikings have enjoyed a strong homefield advantage at U.S. Bank Stadium. Demand for tickets has remained high.

Part of that is the team, part of that is the venue, but the biggest part is the continued support of fans who pack the place. It's just such a treat for that to be the locale of covering home games for an NFL franchise.

3) There's such a deep-rooted relationship here that was founded long ago, a bond between the team and the community that continues to evolve and strengthen.

Me arrepiento de irle a vikingos muchos años es una vergüeza el gerente estan haciendo pedazos al equipo voy a cambiar de equipo correr a cook thielden zadarius kendrics no tener buen draff estan perdidos

— Hector Jose Hernandez Azua

I'm sorry I don't speak Spanish, but I wanted to include Hector's comments, so I used an internet translation that hopefully is close:

"I regret going to Vikings [games for] many years. Is a shame the [general] manager [is] tearing the team apart. I will change teams. [Losing] Cook, Thielen, Za'Darius [Smith] and [Eric] Kendricks. [Did] not have good draft. Are lost."

There have been numerous times this offseason where I've pointed out that having to move on from players is supposed to sting a little bit, particularly with the devotion that fans pour in to support the team and its players.

The impact of Cook, Thielen and Kendricks on the field and off the field will reverberate within the walls of the organization and beyond. Smith did some good things last year, too, before choosing that he didn't want to return.

I would not classify the decisions to move on from Cook, Thielen or Kendricks as resulting from a goal of trying to tear the team apart. Instead, I think it's trying to figure out what moves have to be done to keep more of the team together.

We're way too early to judge this year's draft. I personally try to start my view of every draft class in neutral and see what happens (although we do convey the excitement the organization has about the players it selects and how the draft picks hope to make their impacts).

The issue with the running backs is the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Management came up with a system that protected themselves from making stupid contracts, and the players agreed to it.

They leveled how much players could make their first 3-5 years. The players should have put in some kind of performance condition that would have allowed them to get paid what they were worth.

They could have put in conditions such as how many plays they were in or yards gained or tackles made or ...


— Craig in Boston, Massachusetts

The National Football League needs a major change in the way compensation is distributed to its players. The few top players make huge salaries proportionally unrealistic to most of the players. The difference between the top players and the grunts on the teams is unfair. Without the good lineman, the defensive backs, etc., a team is not going to compete. Yes, the quarterbacks (also certain wide receivers) are most important, but should they get paid over 10 times our linemen etc.? I could see 2-to-4 times more but 10 is not fair. The league could be much better if that was so. The league can change that by making rules. It can also cap the cap, not raising it, using the excess monies to make the price of seeing the league play more affordable.

This year will be a real test for Coach [O'Connell] and staff with the loss of so many experienced players. Let's see what they can do. It will be on [O'Connell and Adofo-Mensah].

— Gill Sorg in New Mexico

Grouping these thoughts from Craig and Gill because of their relationship to compensation.

The current CBA was approved in 2020 and cleared the way for the 17-game schedule that was implemented in 2021.

The deal, which passed through a close vote among players (1,019 in favor; 959 opposed), is scheduled to run through 2030.

ESPN's Dan Graziano noted in 2020 that not every player who was eligible to vote in a 10-day window capitalized on that opportunity. Once the 17-game schedule was implemented, the players' share moved to 48.5 percent of league revenue. In 2023, that figure was set at $224.8 million per team.

Rules require each team to spend thresholds of the salary cap over periods of time, and there's a baseline that must be collectively spent by teams each season.

Running backs, as Craig suggests, might be most affected by caps on rookie contracts, given how soon they're usually contributing.

Although the NFL uses revenue sharing, which has helped solidify the overall health and competitiveness of the league, various positions are probably going to command different salaries, and the players deemed elite are going to be rewarded for the scarcity they provide and the competitiveness of the market.

It appears the Vikings are putting all their cap space into the offense. With that said, how will these players get on the field when their defense can't stop anybody?

— Bill Johnson

It's hard for me to say that $224.8 million as "limited" resources, but I guess "capped" resources is accurate.

When there is a lid on how much teams can apply, I understand trying to find a balance between offense and defense, but I also see there being a case for applying resources in the direction that your head coach is best positioned to maximize impact.

O'Connell's background as an offensive coordinator and former quarterback have positioned him to do well with an offense that can hum.

But, as you smartly point out, the defense needs to be able to create stops and get off the field faster than we saw in 2022.

If that side of the ball can make a few improvements under Flores, then the view of the overall completeness of the team could change in 2023.

Question for Coach O'Connell. What is the plan for Kirk Cousins? Any plan to re-sign him, or will someone else be taking over next year?

— Liam Jacobson

It seems like the Vikings and Cousins set aside contract talks to focus on 2023 and see what happens.

Cousins was asked about his contract during his June 14 media session.

"I think we'll probably talk about the contract next March, and until then, just focus on this season and the job to do right now," Cousins said.

But speaking of Cousins, I'm looking forward to seeing him in the upcoming Netflix series, Quarterback. The documentary spotlights him, Mahomes and Marcus Mariota during the 2022 season.

It is scheduled to launch on July 12 and will provide fans with an authentic and up-close look at the quarterbacks featured.