Danielle Hunter agrees to contract extension with Vikings

EAGAN, Minn. -- The Vikings' ownership and front office zeroed in on the franchise's long-term future again this offseason by securing another foundational piece of the league's top-ranked defense.

Minnesota awarded a contract extension to third-year defensive end Danielle Hunter on Wednesday. It's a five-year deal with a $14.4 million average salary, $40 million in guarantees and a $15 million signing bonus, ESPN's Dan Graziano reports.

Hunter, 23, was entering the final year of his contract with a base salary of $1.9 million. His new contract will run through the 2023 season. In three years with the Vikings after being selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft, Hunter has 25.5 sacks, including a career-best 12.5 two seasons ago.

"He's come in and performed extremely well," general manager Rick Spielman said. "I think he was 20 years old when we drafted him. If he stays healthy and continues to develop and grow as a football player, I'm sure he'll get another opportunity to get another significant contract."

The Vikings now have 10 players under contract through at least 2020. Hunter joins a list of players with multiyear deals that includes Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, Eric Kendricks, Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes.

The Vikings followed a model with Hunter that they've used previously on players with contracts coming due. Last offseason, Minnesota agreed to contract extensions with Griffen and Linval Joseph two years ahead of when their deals would expire and a year before Rhodes was done.

"The good thing about it is, it's really [vice president of football operations] Rob [Brzezinski] and Rick's [Spielman] philosophy and George Paton about extending the guys that we have here and the guys that we feel are great foundations for our organization and continue to get them here and continue to build upon them," Mike Zimmer said. "Even if we have to extend them a little bit early, that's what we try to do."

Hunter, who is spending his offseason training in Houston and flew up to the Twin Cities to finalize his contact, said the reward of job security and a lucrative deal serves as motivation to reach the next level of his career.

"It's all about just continuing to improve my game," Hunter said. "I've got to go out there and just do what the coaches tell me to do. Now that I have this, I can't relax. Just got to keep pounding and grinding."

Had the Vikings not extended Hunter now, the defensive end would have become a free agent after this season. Hunter's estimated value could have been upwards of $18 million if the Vikings were to have used the franchise tag on him in 2019, allowing him to hit the open market after that and earn a potentially bigger payday. The former LSU product, however, wanted to sign his next contract much sooner.

"I had to get this out the way," Hunter said. "I didn't want to be bothered by anything. During OTAs there was a few questions about it but I wasn't really focused on it then. Now that I have some time to talk to my agent about stuff, we got it out the way before the season started."

Minnesota picked up the fifth-year option on cornerback Trae Waynes' contract in May and signed linebacker Kendricks to a five-year extension worth $50 million at the start of the team's offseason program. Anthony Barr and Stefon Diggs are the next Vikings players in line for new deals, which remains the focal point for the front office.

Spielman said he and Brzezinski have been in talks with Barr's and Diggs' agents with the hopes of keeping these core players around beyond 2018.

"Last year we were able to get three contract extensions done, I think, at the early part of training camp or right when we got going," Spielman said. "We're going to continue to work at it. We want to keep all of our guys, and we'll try to see if there's a way that we can do that because not only those guys are very important to us and would love to get them locked up as well."