What are the Vikings not telling us?
Yesterday it was announced by the Minnesota Vikings that superstar pass rusher Danielle Hunter was being placed on Injured Reserve (IR), ruling out the defensive end until at least the Week 4 game against the Texans. But are the Vikings really telling the true story about the extent of this injury? I’m not so sure.
Hunter had not practiced with the Vikings since an injury sustained on August 14th, one which head coach Mike Zimmer had continuously referred to as a “tweak” Under league rules, the team were under no obligation to provide anything more detailed; that is until the Week 1 injury report was due yesterday for all teams.
It was just before that moment in which the team announced that they would be placing Hunter on the IR list, which rather interestingly meant that they would not have to disclose full details of the injury; and because of the rules around IR designations were even able to get away with not adding him to the Week 1 injury report.
So why all the secrecy around the injury? Worryingly for Vikings fans, I suspect that this may be much more serious than anyone has let on and that the organisation may be doing their absolute best to avoid telling the truth.
Courtney Cronin of ESPN reported via Twitter yesterday that per source the “tweak” actually relates to a neck injury sustained by Hunter during the practice on August 14th. It’s interesting to note that the team have not formally released any information about the injury at all.
The worry here is of course that this injury could actually be quite serious, especially if he is dealing with a neck injury. A three week absence for neck problems seems a little short, and this isn’t an area of the body you want to be taking too many risks with. You can patch up a knee, but you shouldn’t really take risks with a neck. What have the Vikings known since this mid-August injury and what are they not telling us?
With that timeline in mind, let’s look back to the moment just under two weeks ago when the Vikings announced that they had traded for Pro Bowl DE Yannick Ngakoue from the Jacksonville Jaguars. This signing was celebrated as the much needed Everson Griffen replacement, and seen as a fantastic option to put alongside Danielle Hunter on the Vikings defensive line to create a devastating pass rush duo. The mouth salivates just thinking about it.
But what if the Ngakoue signing was never intended to be the Griffen replacement? What if he was signed not necessarily as a replacement for Griffen, but perhaps even for Danielle Hunter this season? It poses an interesting question, and the need to potentially rethink the nature of this signing, particularly as there is at the very least a realistic possibility of serious time to be missed by Danielle this season, even season ending in the worst case.
There are of course a number of really good players on the defensive side of the ball in Minnesota, but make no mistake about it; Hunter is the blue chip of all blue chips. Coming off of back to back 14.5 season sack totals, he is without doubt one of the most productive (and yet under appreciated) stars in the NFL, on a Hall of Fame level trajectory.
With the loss of two starting cornerbacks from last season, and a wildly thin safety group of just two on the roster (albeit the pairing of Anthony Harris & Harrison Smith is arguably one of the best tandems in the league) it is fair to expect that there will be mistakes to come from the defensive back area of the team; and this could have been negated in part because of a pair of defensive ends good enough to scare any opposing offence. But with Hunter out, this now opens up some serious concerns for the defence. On the interior of the line Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson are projected to start, and they can certainly be had in the run game.
The other matter to consider that has been touted is that perhaps this actually comes down to a contractual dispute. When you consider the fact that Hunter is due to make around $3.5million this season and roughly $11/12million per season for the three years after, he’s clearly underpaid for his level of production, perhaps the result of cashing in too early when he took a 5 year $72million deal back in 2018 that now pales in comparison to some of the other big name defensive players in the league.
It must be said that this is probably a non-issue given that Hunter has been nothing but a model pro since entering the league, and currently has an active 77 game playing streak that he has taken a lot of pride in getting to. But maybe it impacts his willingness to rush back from a potential neck injury? The negative impact of doing so could be devastating for his career and future earning potential.
So what is really going with this injury, and why exactly do the Vikings seem determined to keep it all a secret? Perhaps after all this we see Danielle Hunter lining up in Week 4 in Houston and all of this is a worry over nothing, but if this drags on and it does start to become more clearly a serious injury, do we need to reset expectations on what the Minnesota Vikings can achieve this season?
Let us know your thoughts at @NinetyNineYards and @DaleJones14.
Picture from SKOR North