Hunter suffered what was initially classified as a shoulder injury in the second quarter of Minnesota's 20-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. He was downgraded from questionable to out at the beginning of the third quarter and was not seen on the sideline in the second half.
Hunter, 27, is tied for 10th in the NFL with six sacks through seven games and played at least 83% of the defensive snaps in each of Minnesota's first six games before its Week 8 game with Dallas.
"I don't think you replace him," Zimmer said. "He's one of a kind. It's unfortunate that we're going to miss the next half of the season with him, and all of last year. So, he's a great kid and he'll do a good job in his rehab and he'll be ready to go."
Hunter missed the 2020 season with a neck injury that required him to have surgery last year. He missed the majority of Minnesota's offseason program while rehabbing his neck before being cleared to return to practice in August.
"I can't imagine. I really can't imagine what he's going through," Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen said. "He rehabbed his neck to get back strong and then he comes back and something like this happens to him. It can be very frustrating, and I know that he's frustrated right now. But he's got to just pick his head up and fight back just like he did last year, and it's devastating for our football team losing one of our star players. It really hurts.''
The Vikings reworked Hunter's contract ahead of mandatory minicamp to give the defensive end $5.6 million of his $12.15 million 2021 base salary as a signing bonus. The restructure also called for an $18 million roster bonus due on the fifth day of the 2022 league year.
Considering the nature of Hunter's season-ending injury, it's not likely the Vikings will pick up his option, thus foreshadowing a reworked deal or release next March.
Hunter had 54.5 sacks through his first five NFL seasons, becoming the fastest player ever to reach 50 sacks after notching double-digit-sack seasons in 2018 and 2019 when he earned back-to-back Pro Bowl honors.