Vikings’ Hunter is happy to be over the contract hump, for now, and get back to practice

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Danielle Hunter was dissatisfied enough with his contract that he skipped Minnesota’s offseason program and kept himself off the field for the beginning of training camp.

With a temporary new deal reached over the weekend, Hunter put the pads on Monday and participated in practice with the Vikings for the first time since the 2022 season ended. His contract will be in question again soon, but for now the team’s best pass rusher can happily push the business part aside and work up a sweat with his teammates while trying to master a new scheme.

“I just wanted to come back here, be with my teammates and play ball. I’m happy we got over that hump,” said Hunter, who’s entering his ninth year with the Vikings.

His base salary for 2023 more than tripled to $17 million, Hunter can earn an additional $3 million in incentives, according to NFL Network. He will still hit the free agent market after the season, unless he and the team strike a deal on an extension in the meantime. The Vikings can’t put a franchise tag on him next spring as part of the new agreement.

As for that third long-term contract he’d like?

“I’m here now. Whenever that time comes, that time comes. The big thing is I’m here now for my coaches, my teammates and the organization,” Hunter said. “They need me to be myself this year, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Trading the three-time Pro Bowl pick was a possibility, but Hunter — speaking to reporters for the first time this year — said he loves the organization and didn’t drop any hints he’d rather be elsewhere.

“I want to be a Viking forever,” Hunter said.

Having been limited to seven games over the 2020 and 2021 seasons, because of neck surgery and then a torn pectoral muscle, Hunter lost some of his leverage in seeking a bigger deal. After working out in the Arizona heat, without any injuries to rehabilitate for the first time in three years, Hunter is fully healthy and poised for a productive season under new defensive coordinator Brian Flores.

The Vikings are trying to keep him that way, so they have Hunter on a two-week ramp-up process in order to ease him into full-team drills.

“My team needs me. They don’t want me to rush back out there and have something bad happen,” Hunter said. “I’m just going to follow their lead and do whatever they tell me to do.”

That’s the attitude he has toward Flores and the likelihood he’ll be in more of a pure pass-rushing role and not asked to drop into coverage from the 3-4 outside linebacker position as former defensive coordinator Ed Donatell directed last season more than Hunter had been used to previously. He had 10 1/2 sacks, his fourth double-digit season total, but he never looked completely comfortable in that scheme.

Now Flores and his blitz-often scheme will have Hunter’s pass-rushing prowess to lean on, lessening the pressure on newcomer Marcus Davenport and unproven backups Patrick Jones and D.J. Wonnum at the ever-important edge spots. Hunter has 71 career sacks, which is eighth on the franchise’s career list.

“He brings a level of toughness in the run game as well as the pass game. We’ll do everything we can schematically to try to put him in good position as we do with all our players,” Flores said.