With news of defensive tackle Linval Joseph’s extension coming out Saturday, the Vikings have made four big commitments to their defensive stars in the past two years. They signed cornerback Xavier Rhodes to a five-year, $78.1 million deal that includes $32.8 million in guaranteed money; defensive lineman Everson Griffen to a four-year, $58 million deal with $34 million guaranteed; and safety Harrison Smith to a five-year, $51.25 million deal with $28.6 million guaranteed.
Joseph, 28, reportedly received a four-year, $50 million deal with $31.5 million guaranteed.
And if you’re looking for the next Vikings defender to get a big contract, look no further than Danielle Hunter. The third-round pick was the steal of the 2015 draft, and he keeps getting better.
The 6-6, 240-pound defensive end is signed for two more seasons. Eventually, he will certainly be eligible for a salary equal to that of the others.
Last season, in his second year in the league, Hunter recorded 12½ sacks at the age of 22, becoming only the 10th player to reach 12 sacks at that age since the NFL started tracking the statistic.
That came after he had six sacks in 2015, the most ever by a Vikings rookie.
Still, Hunter said he paid no attention to that rookie record, and to hear him tell it, getting sacks is less about him and more about his teammates and the game plan put in by defensive line coach Andre Patterson.
“It’s all about just going with the game plan,” Hunter said when asked about doubling his sack total. “Going out there, we each have our game plan of what we need to do. Sometimes it’s my turn to get sacks, sometimes it’s LJ’s [Joseph’s] turn to get sacks, sometimes it’s Griff [Griffen] or B Rob [Brian Robison]. We just go out there and rush as a game plan and work on our technique and the sacks will come.”
When asked if there was any teammate who helped create sacks for him, Hunter once again went back to marking the unit as a whole.
“You know, it’s everybody, all four guys on the line of scrimmage,” he said. “That’s all that matters when it comes to sacks. If one guy doesn’t do his job, then the quarterback will roll out of the pocket. In order for one person to get a sack, he has to do his job so that each player can get a sack.”
Coaches and mentors
This Vikings coaching staff has been fantastic at adapting players to the team’s defensive scheme and making them very successful. Hunter said the coaches have done nothing but improve his play since he joined the organization.
“I think [Mike Zimmer] is an excellent coach,” he said. “When you watch film he coaches everybody up. So he’ll watch film 10 times and correct every single person on the film. He’s a great coach.”
When it comes to Patterson, who returned to the Vikings in 2014 after previously coaching their defensive line in 1998 and ’99, Hunter was just as complimentary. “He has been there since Day 1,” Hunter said. “Ever since I got drafted he sent me a text saying, ‘We’re going to work together.’ He makes sure I’m focused and he has been a good coach to me, as well as the D-line.
“He is always on me and I’m always asking him questions about, ‘What I should work on today? What do you think about me doing this and that?’ ”
Still he said as much as the coaches have helped him, he has gotten just as much advice and teaching from veteran teammates Robison and Griffen.
Career started at LSU
It’s amazing to see how quickly Hunter has acclimated to the pro ranks, considering that only five years ago he was ranked as only the 37th- best high school recruit in Texas.
Coming out of high school, Hunter said the first college program that showed interest in him was Louisiana State.
“LSU was basically one of the first schools to give me an offer, and after that a lot of schools decided to offer me a scholarship and all of that,” he said. “Arkansas, a lot of Big Ten schools, Texas A&M, [Texas], all of that.”
He said Baton Rogue — about 4½ hours from his home in Katy, Texas, west of Houston — was just close enough and just far away enough.
“If it was time to go home, I just went home,” he said. “It was just the football staff and the education over there. They had a good football team and had made it to the BCS Championship the year before.”
In college, Hunter didn’t show the great pass-rushing ability he has with the Vikings. He recorded 142 tackles over three years, with 21 for loss, but only 4½ sacks.
“You know, it was just something I enjoyed,” he said of his college years. “Going out and supporting my team and helping my team any way that I can. It was a good three years at LSU.”
Still works with Peterson
Hunter has been a consistent workout partner of Adrian Peterson.
“It’s just something I have been doing since I was a rookie,” Hunter said. “We go out and train together and do mobility stuff, hills, just basic stuff to keep you in shape and get you better.”
Was he surprised to see Peterson end up with the Saints?
“I was fairly surprised,” he said. “It’s close to Texas, so not too far away from his home. I’m happy for him that he made it onto a team.”
• Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle was asked for his reaction to a recent Star Tribune story about the lack of diversity on his athletics staff. “There’s no question that we can do a better job,” he said. “I’m very proud. When we look at diversity, we look at it as whether it be male, female, African-American, Caucasian, etc., and we can always improve on that. We have six minorities on our senior staff with women and African-American males. We try to focus on that because I think it’s important for our student-athletes that they have mentors and people they can see when they interact with our department and people they can look up to. I think that’s something we’ll always focus on and try to improve on.”
• The Green Bay Packers recently held their shareholders meeting, where they announced that in 2016 they had a gross revenue of $441.4 million, an 8 percent increase over 2015. Their profit from operations was $65.4 million, down from a record $75 million the year before. One thing that gives an insight into other NFL teams is that the Packers earned $244 million in national revenue, with most of that coming from NFL television contracts.
• Vikings coach Mike Zimmer spoke this past week about the unselfish play of the defensive line, including veteran Linval Joseph. “Probably works as hard as anyone on the football team in the offseason,” Zimmer said. “I think he cares an awful lot about the guys around him. [Defensive line coach] Andre Patterson does a good job of preaching all that.”
• On new Vikings receiver Michael Floyd, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said of the Cretin-Derham Hall product: “I think the thing I’m seeing now as compared to the spring is his physical presence out there. He’s a big, physical guy. He’s a full-grown man playing receiver.”
• The Twins entered Saturday having scored the fewest runs in the ninth inning of any team in the major leagues. They have had only two walkoff victories all season.