The New York Giants have a much-discussed need depth at edge defender. Would a trade for Danielle Hunter fill it?
The Vikings traded edge Za’Darius Smith to the Cleveland Browns this offseason and have released for-time Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook. NFL Network is reporting that some teams believe the Vikings are heading into a tear down and have been calling the Vikings about Hunter, a three-time Pro Bowler.
Are the Giants one of the teams that has placed a call to Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah? That’s unknown. If they aren’t, should they make that call?
In my view, definitely.
Where Hunter would fit
The Giants have second-year player Kayvon Thibodeaux and third-year player Azeez Ojulari — an impressive, young, hopefully improving duo they would like to count on to be impact players for years to come.
Thibodeaux, the fifth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, had just four sacks. He had a higher pressure rate, though, than the two edge defenders selected before him — Travon Walker and Aidan Hutchinson. Thibodeaux got better as his rookie season moved along, both getting healthier after a preseason knee injury and learning more about what was required at the NFL level.
The Giants — and Thibodeaux — are expecting him to continue to get better in 2023.
Ojulari’s pass rush impact has always been apparent — when he has been on the field. He set a Giants’ (non-Lawrence Taylor) rookie record with 8.0 sacks in 2021. In 2022, he had 5.5 sacks in just seven games as he battled quad and ankle injuries.
Behind them, the Giants have Jihad Ward, Oshane Ximines, Tomon Fox and Elerson Smith. All are limited or largely unproven players.
Hunter would massively upgrade the Giants’ edge depth and their pass rush. Perhaps he wouldn’t be a starter, but he would easily be the team’s most accomplished edge defender and pass rusher.
In 102 NFL games, Hunter, who turns 29 in October, has 71 career sacks. He had had double-digit sacks in four seasons, including 10.5 in a bounce back 2022 season that saw him earn his third Pro Bowl nod.
Hunter, listed at 6-foot-5, 263 pounds, has spent most of his career playing as hand in the ground 4-3 defensive end. Last season, though, playing for the first in a 3-4 base defense under the direction of defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, Hunter showed no trouble adapting. He played 927 of 966 defensive snaps as a standup edge defender.
That, of course is significant because the Giants are a base 3-4 team under defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.
What it would cost
This is a two-part question — the financial cost and what type of trade package the Giants would need to put together to acquire him.
In the final year of a long-term extension he signed in 2018, Hunter is due a $4.9 million P5 base salary (see glossary definition) in 2023.
Over The Cap currently lists the Giants with $3.824 million in cap space for 2023. The Giants will gain cap space if and when they agree to a long-term deal with Saquon Barkley, lowering the $10.091 million cap hit under the franchise tag. As they did with Darren Waller when they acquired him, the Giants could also negotiate an extension with Hunter that would lower his 2023 cap hit.
The finances, then, appear workable.
Let’s start with the Vikings-Browns trade package for Smith. The Vikings sent Smith and 2025 sixth- and seventh-round picks to the Browns in exchange for fifth-round selections in 2024 and 2025.
Smith is also a three-time Pro Bowl player. He has 54 career sacks and turns 31 in September.
Could the Giants get Hunter for something similar? Perhaps a 2024 fourth-round pick and a 2025 fifth-round pick? Or, a fourth-round pick and the tantalizing but often-injured edge defender Elerson Smith?
Age and additional sack production could make the cost for Hunter somewhat higher than the cost for Smith, but perhaps not so much more as to make a deal out of the question.
The Andre Patterson factor
Giants’ defensive line coach Andre Patterson was in that role for Minnesota during Hunter’s first several seasons with the Vikings. Patterson has been a significant influence on Hunter’s career, dating back to the 2015 pre-draft process.
Patterson helped transform Hunter from an extremely talented but under-achieving player at LSU into one of the NFL’s dominant pass rushers.
There is more on the Patterson-Hunter connection in this 2022 story we did at Big Blue View.
Hunter would be a standup edge for the Giants and not directly coached by Patterson. You have to think, though, that a recommendation from Patterson might go a long way toward getting Giants general manager Joe Schoen to pick up the phone.