Thank you for submitting questions for this week's Vikings mailbag. You can always send questions to @Andrew_Krammer on Twitter or email@example.com, and listen for answers on the weekly Access Vikings podcast or find them here on Friday mornings. Let's get to it.
Q: Why aren't the Vikings signing more pass rushers? What does the pass rush and defensive end rotation look like if Hunter can't be counted on? — @thiscrapsucks35
AK: The Vikings' offseason moves in stockpiling veteran cornerbacks Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, and Bashaud Breeland, gives off the appearance they're banking on Danielle Hunter showing up at some point. Really, Hunter doesn't have much leverage as a 26-year-old star pass rusher in his prime with three years remaining on his current contract while also coming off neck surgery. Hunter is already sending a message by skipping "voluntary" OTAs, for which he was always present prior to this financial riff and now gives up a $100,000 workout bonus for not attending. If he skips next week's mandatory minicamp, it'll be up to the Vikings whether he gets fined the $93,085 for those three days. The real date that matters is the start of training camp in late July, when under the most recent collective bargaining agreement the Vikings are not allowed to waive a daily $50,000 fine for veteran players like Hunter.
Follow the transactions: the most significant pass rusher the Vikings added this offseason is defensive end Stephen Weatherly, who has been standing in Hunter's place during spring practices as the left defensive end. That was for a fully guaranteed $500,000. Just six weeks ago, the front office added a third-round end in Patrick Jones II and a fourth-round end in Janarius Robinson. Those moves reflect the need for depth, not a team that's expecting to blink on moving on from its top pass rusher.
If/when Hunter reports, he'll lead a pass rush that's expected to feature him, Weatherly, and second-year edge D.J. Wonnum. One of the more intriguing training camp battles will be for roster spots behind them. Jones and Robinson could force out familiar names like Jalyn Holmes and Hercules Mata'afa.
Q: Who will be the next free agent the Vikings sign? — @joeldubiel
AK: Defensive tackle Geno Atkins has made a lot of sense for a long time. He was an All-Pro selection in 2012 and 2015 for former Bengals coordinators Mike Zimmer and Paul Guenther; both are now on the Vikings staff after Zimmer hired Guenther as a senior assistant this offseason. Atkins is now 33 years old and was cut by the Bengals in March to save nearly $10 million in cap space. He's also coming off shoulder surgery that ended his 2020 season. Medical and financial hurdles would need to be cleared for the Vikings to sign Atkins, but the move would make sense for a defense that lacks interior pass rush and would only need him for a rotational/third-down role behind starters Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson. Money might be the biggest hurdle, as the Vikings will pay $16 million in cash ($6 million in immediate cap space) this year for signing Tomlinson in March.
Q: Do you think with all the depth at cornerback Zimmer has something up his sleeve with more dime (six defensive backs) packages? — @nicholasbartels
AK: I think the depth at cornerback is more about finding the right three corners to play in the often-used nickel, or five defensive back, package, as well as ensuring an injury or two won't cause a massive drop in play. Think about it this way: would the Vikings remove either linebacker Anthony Barr or Eric Kendricks from the field in favor of their fourth corner? Probably not. With how well he covers tight ends and running backs, Kendricks might as well be a third safety on the field. No, the cornerback signings reflect the Vikings not wanting to bank on either of last year's starters in Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler, for very different reasons. Gladney remains away from the team after an April arrest on alleged felony domestic assault, while Dantzler's offseason directive was to bulk up and stay healthy, but he's yet to take an 11-on-11 rep during three OTAs open to reporters while watching from the sideline with his upper right leg wrapped. Dantzler as a No. 4 option, likely behind Breeland, may seem more appealing to the Vikings. Dantzler could still develop into a long-term starter, but the pressure on him in 2021 has decreased.
Q: Has it ever been disclosed how Danielle Hunter injured his neck in the first place? — @nathanaustin5
AK: All that has come out about the cause of Hunter's neck injury is what Mike Zimmer divulged in October after Hunter's surgery: "It was hardly anything. When we looked back at the [practice] tape, I don't know whatever it was, a week later [in training camp], it could have happened to anybody at any point." Zimmer made it sound like a freak injury in one of the non-padded training camp practices, the last of which Hunter participated in was Aug. 14. Zimmer would only call the herniated disc in Hunter's neck a "tweak" on Aug. 17 and again on Aug. 27. Thirteen days later, the team placed Hunter on injured reserve. It was Hunter who chose to get a second opinion from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, and then decide to undergo season-ending surgery later the same month. After Hunter's operation, Zimmer defended his "tweak" comments by saying, "when it all started, [Hunter] woke up and thought he slept on his neck wrong, so that's why it was a tweak." But Zimmer wouldn't say when Hunter got the MRI that actually revealed it was a more significant injury.