Minnesota’s star pass rusher Danielle Hunter isn’t happy with her contract. He is set to be paid $5.5 million in 2023, which is a very low number for a Pro Bowl outside linebacker after an outstanding 2022 campaign. Hunter ranked in the top 10 in both QB pressures and rushing yards despite a relatively slow start at his new position.
5 free agents to (potentially) replace Danielle Hunter.
Due to his contract status, Hunter is expected to either sign a new contract with the Vikings or after being traded elsewhere. If the Vikings sold him, they would have Marcus Davenport as the top guy, followed by current backups DJ Wonum and Patrick Jones. The following players cannot completely replace Hunter’s production, but they can upgrade the position without Hunter in the picture by taking their place in the starting lineup.
Ngakoué is known for two things: He is a terrific pass rusher and his run defense is a liability. The Vikings saw it firsthand when he infamously led the team in assists in 2020 despite only playing six games. He recorded 5 sacks that season for the Vikings and 3 more sacks after the trade to Baltimore.
In 110 career games, Ngakoué has produced 65 sacks and has never had a season with fewer than 8 sacks in his seven-year career. Former third-round pick Brian Flores’ age-28 season will ensure a productive pass rush in his defense. After spending his first four seasons with the Jaguars, Ngakoué turned into a journeyman, playing for four different teams over the last three seasons.
Houston is a phenom, still playing at a high level despite his age. The defender is 34 years old and still puts up numbers. He just dropped 25 pressures and 9.5 sacks in Baltimore despite playing less than 50% of the snaps. Houston was once an elite pass-rusher; his best season came in 2014 when he recorded 22 sacks, just 0.5 short of Michael Strahan’s record. That was before Hunter even entered the draft (in 2015).
The four-time Pro Bowler would add more than just the on-field play. He could play the same role he did in Baltimore, alternating snaps with Wonnum or Jones and mentoring the young backups with his incredible experience collected over his long 12-year career.
The defender was the first overall pick in 2014 when the Vikings came away from the first round with Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater. His ridiculous forced fumble in college turned him into that highly-anticipated player with huge expectations but he never lived up to them.
Clowney is the opposite of Ngakoue. He is a phenomenal run defender but his pass-rush production leaves something to be desired. However, in the right system, he can put up decent numbers. Clowney recorded at least 50 pressures in five seasons of his career and had 9 sacks three times.
A similarity to Ngakoue is his journeyman status, playing for four different teams in the last five seasons. Without any doubt, Clowney is the biggest name on the list.
The 28-year-old isn’t a household name among NFL fans, but if he can find a team where he gets a chance to start, he could become a popular name in the upcoming season. Smoot started only 17 of 87 games in six seasons, but managed to record 22.5 sacks and 60 QB hits. He produced at least 5 sacks in four consecutive seasons.
As he began to crack the starting lineup, he lost his job to first pick Travon Walker and had to come off the bench, yet he recorded 5 sacks in 446 snaps in 2022. Smoot should be a cheaper option than the previous three candidates if the Vikings don’t want to spend big.
Quinn’s career has been a mystery. He got off to a strong start with the Rams, where he recorded 5 sacks as a rookie, followed by 40 sacks over the next three campaigns before slowing down again in 2015. The next double-digit sack campaign came in 2019 with the Cowboys. In 2020, Quinn only managed to collect 2 sacks, setting a Bears single-season record, before exploding for 18.5 in 2021. In 13 games in 2022, Quinn only had 1 sack.
His production has been strangely up-and-down. If the Vikings sign him and he gets one of those up seasons, he could replace the rush effect Hunter has, but a down year in 2022 is a risk.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who loves numbers and statistics. The Vikings became his favorite team at the time, despite quarterback Christian Ponder. He is a walking football encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms and classic rock is his musical genre of choice. If you like Vikings, follow them on Twitter: @JanikEckardt