Danielle Hunter returned to Minnesota with a reworked contract after missing all of the 2020 NFL season due to a neck injury.
Speaking during Vikings minicamp, coach Mike Zimmer admitted Wednesday morning that the club was unsure how healthy the pass rusher might be after surgery on a herniated disc in his neck in October.
"I saw him, you know, for the first time a couple days ago, I guess it was," Zimmer said. "He came up and gave me a big hug. It's really hard to say. We weren't sure he was obviously healthy until he came in and did his physical. He looks fantastic and should be ready to go. All the other stuff, the money part, and the contract, and all that. It's out of my paygrade."
Hunter's health is notable even in mid-June. Neck injuries can linger and have ended careers in the past. The Vikings hope Hunter's one-year absence is just a blip in the radar, and he returns to his Pro Bowl form.
Prior to the injury, Hunter was an athletic freak off the edge, giving tackles fits week after week. The 26-year-old earned 14.5 sacks apiece in 2018 and 2019. Getting that production back in Zimmer's defense would be huge for a Vikings club looking to return to the postseason after a dismal defensive season sans Hunter and others.
To appease the now healthy edge rusher -- who'd reportedly been eyeing a reworked contract as far back as last year -- the Vikings moved $5.6 million of his salary into a 2021 signing bonus. The club also created a 2022 roster bonus that forces Minnesota to make an $18 million decision on the pass rusher before the fifth day of the new league year.
The key for Hunter is getting back to sacking QBs and showing no ill effects of the year off. While he's not participating in minicamp, Hunter is back in the building, and Zimmer likes what he's seen from the now healthy edge rusher.
Hunter's return, along with several other additions, has Zimmer believing his D should bounce back from a poor 2020.
"It's probably going to look completely different on the defensive side of the ball than it did last year, with the guys coming back and the additions that we made. So I am excited about that," the coach said.