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Zulgad: Is Danielle Hunter headed for a holdout, or will defensive end show up for minicamp?

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Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter warms up before an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

The Green Bay Packers aren’t the only NFC North team wondering whether one of their high-profile players will show up for minicamp. While Aaron Rodgers’ situation dominates the headlines, the Vikings are faced with the possibility that defensive end Danielle Hunter could skip the team’s mandatory three-day minicamp that begins June 15.

Hunter, who did not play last season after having surgery to repair a herniated disk, has stayed away from the Vikings’ Organized Team Activities. Those aren’t mandatory but Hunter likely is forfeiting the $100,000 workout bonus in his contract.

It’s been no secret Hunter wants a new contract, even though he has three years remaining on the five-year, $72 million contract he signed in June 2018. That deal included $40 million in guarantees, including a $15 million signing bonus.

Hunter is the 17th highest-paid pass rushing end in the NFL and his average yearly salary of $14.4 million is nowhere close to the top three of Joey Bosa ($27 million), Myles Garrett ($25 million) and Khalil Mack ($23.5 million). Hunter, 26, was coming off a seven-sack season in 2017 when he signed but then had back-to-back seasons of 14.5 sacks before missing 2020.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer provided a vague answer when asked about Hunter’s current absence. “It’s voluntary,” he said of the OTAs. “When guys are here, we’ve had outstanding participation. Almost 95 percent. I know one guy’s missing today because his daughter is graduating but for the most part we’ve had outstanding participation. So we’ll just see when minicamp shows up.”

Reports of Hunter’s desire for a new contract date to last October when Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Media combined to provide this scoop.

If Hunter doesn’t show up for minicamp he stands to lose more than $100,000. That would be a sign that things haven’t exactly gone smoothly behind the scenes as the Vikings and Hunter’s agent work to resolve the situation.

Having a healthy Hunter back, is absolutely essential for a defense that was the worst it has been since Zimmer became coach in 2014. The Vikings have spent the offseason retooling the defense and are counting on the return of injured players such as Hunter and linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks to turn around the unit.

Hunter’s presence — and being confident he can return to his pre-surgery form — also is important given the fact the Vikings do not have a certain starter at the right end position. A Hunter holdout would leave the Vikings scrambling for players to rush the quarterback from both sides of the line.

The Vikings long have shown a willingness to reward their top players with new contracts. Last season, running back Dalvin Cook dropped out of the team’s offseason program (that was done by Zoom because of the pandemic) but he ended up signing a five-year, $63 million extension just before the regular season began. Cook also showed up for the start of training camp.

The difference was that Cook was entering the final season of his rookie contract and Hunter is in the midst of an extension. Hunter has $3.3 million in guaranteed salary this year but no guarantees in the final two years. Given the concern that can come with a neck injury, Hunter’s camp likely wants to change that as well.

Will the Vikings acquiesce to Hunter’s demands or play hardball? We’ll know more in a couple of weeks.