EAGAN, Minn. – In 2015, General Manager Rick Spielman took a chance on a guy the Vikings believed to be a diamond in the rough.
Danielle Hunter turned out to be the gem the Vikings were digging for, and on Wednesday they secured him for another five years. The team announced Wednesday that Hunter signed an extension, just over three years after being drafted in the fifth round.
"Ever since [Head Coach Mike] Zimmer has been here and we've come together, and the way we've kind of tailored our drafts, taking guys like this who might not be as polished right out of college, but you see that they have this tremendous upside, and they have these tremendous physical traits," Spielman told Twin Cities media members. "And they're quality people – they want to really work, and they have passion for the game."
Added Spielman: "When they check all of our boxes, then we feel that we have a pretty good chance of having success and hitting on those types of guys."
Here are four other topics covered by Spielman and Zimmer with media members following Hunter's press conference:
1. Extending players early
Over the past two years, the Vikings have extended a number of significant defensive players prior to their contracts being up. Hunter joins Eric Kendricks, who signed a deal in April, along with Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes, who also have been locked down in that time.
Spielman said that he's never had to worry about players getting complacent following a sizeable contract.
"Even when they get these contracts and the contract extensions that we've done in the past, it seems like those guys take it to the next step after they get these kinds of contracts," Spielman said. "And I think that's, one, the coaching they're getting and two, hopefully we're bringing in those types of guys that the game and the passion for the game means something."
2. Locking in the D-line
After Griffen's extension at the beginning of the 2017 Vikings Training Camp, Minnesota now has its two starting defensive ends for the long-term.
When asked about making sure the duo of Hunter and Griffen remained Vikings, Zimmer expressed via conference call that it's "really hard to find" players of their caliber.
"And most of the time you have to get them very high in the draft," Zimmer said. "You know, [defensive line coach Andre] Patterson and [Defensive Coordinator George] Edwards have done a great job in developing the guys that we have, and that's kind of been one our traits – get these guys and then develop them into better players.
"To have two dynamic rushers on the edge helps us inside with Linval [Joseph] and Sheldon [Richardson], hopefully those four guys, and we'll get the rest of them going and should continue to be good for a little while," Zimmer added.
3. 'The ideal body type'
When asked by a media member if Hunter – who measures in at 6-foot-5 and 252 pounds – has the "ideal body type" that Zimmer looks for in a defensive lineman, the head coach chuckled over the phone.
"Yeah, he's pretty perfect," Zimmer said. "He's got great size, great length, great speed off the edge. And this spring, he worked his rear end off on a bunch of different moves and different things, developing some moves other than just his long arms and just his speed. I'm anxious to watchin him training camp to see how he continues to develop."
4. Always planning ahead
Spielman and Vikings Executive Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski have garnered a reputation for their long-range plans that allow them to sign players like Hunter to early extensions.
In talking to the media, Spielman reminded that the plan for keeping Minnesota's roster in place essentially was in the works at the time Hunter was drafted.
"We started this planning three years ago, and we're always, we're planning for the next three years," Spielman said. "It's a combination of us being able to keep this team together but also rewarding the players as they show success on the field and that they're doing the right things off the field, as well. But it's not easy."
Spielman assured that he and his staff will continue to work to keep the team together. He emphasized that it helps to have players who desire to stay in Purple.
"It seems like guys want to be here and want to be part of this culture, want to be a part of this organization and want to be a part of this community," Spielman said. "They're going to get rewarded for their success on the field financially, but also I think every one of these guys wants a chance to go in and win and wants to play for an organization that does things the right way, and to play with a group of coaches that have a history of taking guys and developing these guys and actually making them better than when they came in."