Thank you for submitting questions for this week’s Vikings mailbag. You can send questions to @Andrew_Krammer on Twitter or via email to email@example.com. Listen for answers on the weekly Access Vikings podcast or find them here on Friday mornings. Let’s get to it.
Q: Danielle Hunter was all over the field and recorded a sack. He kept us in that game. Will a deal get done before the end of the season with him? — @logan_ripley
AK: Hunter is technically under contract for two more years – 2022 and 2023 – not counting two void years on his current contract that were added to spread out money on the salary cap. But his renegotiation with the team this spring seems structured to restart talks this offseason, when he’s due $18 million of a $26 million cap hit by March. The team kept contractual control. They could theoretically pay that lofty bonus and let him play out next year if he doesn’t agree to a new deal. There’s no indication general manager Rick Spielman would initiate talks midseason, which is not his M.O.
But Hunter might also want to keep racking up the sacks – he’s got five in four games – and build up as much leverage as he can before entertaining those talks. Beyond the sack numbers, Hunter is pressuring quarterbacks at a top-five rate. Only three other edge rushers have generated more pressure than Hunter’s 23 combined hurries, hits and sacks, per Pro Football Focus.
Q: I know the NFL trade deadline isn’t as active as baseball, but do you think the Vikings will be looking to make any moves? If so, what sort of positions could they be looking at? Do you think Spielman would start selling off players to build up draft capital? — @withinthemonth
AK: A fire sale only seems possible if they somehow lose Sunday vs. Detroit, and maybe again at Carolina, to start another season 1-5 entering a bye week. The Wilfs may think about a coaching change, at which point Spielman’s vision would have to focus beyond 2021 — if he’s still the general manager. But after three one-score losses, the Vikings are talented enough to separate themselves against the winless Lions. This year, the NFL trade deadline is Nov. 2 — or a couple days after the Vikings’ first game out of the bye against Dallas.
Cornerback is one area where, if they see a fit for depth or even a possible starter, it’d make sense to acquire more talent as Bashaud Breeland has underwhelmed opposite Patrick Peterson. Let’s say the season does sink to the point of selling off players for draft capital: those on expiring deals like linebacker Anthony Barr or defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson would make sense to move.
Q: Through four weeks, what is this offensive line? Solid two weeks, bad two weeks. Is a shakeup in the near future? Rashod Hill seems he is what he is. — @bigbadragz
AK: They’re a patchwork group that’s still finding their footing together, and certainly one that still struggles against bigger, powerful defensive fronts. The latter was a continuing issue against the Bengals and Browns defenses. They fared better against the Cardinals and Seahawks, defenses with less bulk up front. Coaches have lauded improved communication from center Garrett Bradbury after a rough season opener in Cincinnati, which helps. But a loss like the Browns game should heighten urgency to see rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw, who is still working into conditioning shape during what is just his second full week of practices.
“He’s been putting in a lot of hours in the training room, kind of away from the coaches’ eyes,” offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak said. “You can see it’s paid off for him being able to stack some days in practice. He’s getting a lot of reps. We’ve been smart with him, but we’re starting to ramp it up.”
Q: Are there any planned moves to address cornerback depth since both Harrison Hand and Cameron Dantzler are on the COVID list, and Kris Boyd is ailing? — @fall84
AK: They’re moving forward with who they’ve got. Boyd is expected to return Sunday from a hamstring injury that sidelined him vs. Cleveland. Dantzler and Hand could return, according to co-defensive coordinator Adam Zimmer. But coaches don’t know because they need to clear NFL protocols that differ depending on vaccination status. Dantzler has said he’s vaccinated, meaning he tested positive and can return with two negative tests taken 24 hours apart. It’s unclear whether Hand is isolated because he’s an unvaccinated close contact, which requires a five-day minimum quarantine, or he was also a positive case. If Hand is a close contact, he needs to be symptom free and test negative through five days.
Q: How does Anthony Barr fit back into the rotation? — @mrcodycoop
AK: There won’t be a rotation if Barr can handle his normal workload. Conditioning is a factor, but he’s expected to resume his full-time job as the starting strong-side linebacker and nickel linebacker next to Eric Kendricks. Coaches will monitor how he’s feeling, and replace him with Nick Vigil if he gets winded during a long drive, according to Adam Zimmer. Barr hasn’t played in a game since Week 2 of the 2020 season – “that was a long time ago,” he said this week – so coaches are entering the game ready to adjust to how his knee and body respond.
Q: Who could possibly be an interim head coach if Zimmer is let go before the season ends? — @leecvn72
AK: If the Vikings’ losses piled up and Zygi and Mark Wilf decided to fire Mike Zimmer, the obvious candidate for interim head coach is his right-hand man, Andre Patterson. The veteran defensive line coach is a well-respected leader in the locker room, with responsibilities that extend beyond the defense. He heads the team’s social justice committee and, as of this year, officially has the title of assistant head coach. Patterson has long been a trusted confidant of Zimmer’s for any issues facing the team, but this year he’s added big-picture tasks that fall on a head coach, such as scheduling. When an eighth eye operation forced Zimmer to sit out some spring practices in 2017, Patterson was tabbed as the voice leading the team. This coaching staff has first-year coordinators in Klint Kubiak and Ryan Ficken, making Patterson the logical interim replacement for Zimmer should the season reach that point.