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Zulgad’s Roundup: Danielle Hunter’s impressive return could land him at least one NFL award

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Arizona Cardinals
Sep 19, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) runs the ball against Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter (99) in the first half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports

News, notes and a few hot takes:

  • We are only two games into the season but Danielle Hunter should be among the leading candidates for NFL Comeback Player of the Year. The Vikings defensive end, who missed all of last season after undergoing surgery for a herniated disk in his neck, had three sacks against the Cardinals on Sunday and now has four in two games, putting him one behind Chandler Jones’ NFL-leading total. Hunter’s competition figures to come from Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, running backs Christian McCaffrey of Carolina and Saquon Barkley of the Giants and San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa. Hunter is the only one who did not play a down in 2020, but so far he looks to be back to his Pro Bowl form.
  • The Vikings reworked Hunter’s contract during the offseason after he skipped Organized Team Activities because of his dissatisfaction with his contract. Hunter’s new deal moved money around in his contract and added an $18 million roster bonus that triggers on the fifth day of the 2022 league year. If Hunter’s play had declined substantially, the Vikings could have cut him before that date. But his outstanding start means the Vikings likely will approach him about a new contract that is certain to add more money and provide the team with salary-cap relief. Hunter is scheduled to carry a $26.1 million cap hit in 2022 and that doesn’t seem workable. Remember, Kirk Cousins’ cap hit for 2022 is scheduled to be $45 million and the projected 2022 cap for each team is $208.2 million.
  • The Vikings entered the season expecting their retooled defense to be much improved from 2020. But despite some impressive individual performances thus far from guys like Hunter and linebacker Nick Vigil, the team is 27th in points allowed (30.5 per game) and 28th in yards given up (420 per game) during an 0-2 start. Minnesota’s surrendering 294 passing yards per game and 126 on the ground. That ranks 26th and 21st in the NFL, respectively.
  • Free agent addition Bashaud Breeland ranks 107th out of 109 qualified cornerbacks in coverage grade, according to Pro Football Focus. Nickel corner Mackensie Alexander is 84th and veteran Patrick Peterson is 76th.
  • The Vikings might have gotten a bargain in Vigil, who returned an interception for a touchdown against the Cardinals and has played two solid games. Vigil signed a one-year, $1.75 million free agent deal in March. The 28-year-old started only two of the 15 games he played in last season for the Chargers. He spent his first four seasons with the Bengals after being a third-round pick in 2016. Vigil was familiar with the Vikings’ scheme because the defensive coordinator for his first two seasons in Cincinnati was Paul Guenther, who is now a senior defensive assistant for the Vikings and used many elements of Mike Zimmer’s defense with the Bengals.
  • Don’t expect the Ben Simmons to Minnesota rumors to stop anytime soon. ESPN reported Tuesday that the 76ers All-Star forward will not report for the opening of training camp next week and has no intention of returning to Philadelphia. The 76ers have been shopping Simmons this offseason — Wolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas is known to be interested — but Sixers basketball boss Daryl Morey has yet to receive an offer he likes. The 76ers can fine Simmons for staying away from practice and games but at some point are going to want to get a return for him. If Simmons isn’t playing, Morey’s asking price might have to come down. The Wolves, meanwhile, likely will need to get a third-team involved if they are going to land the standout defender.
  • Rosas’ decision to trade for veteran Patrick Beverley is reminiscent of what Wild general manager Bill Guerin did last year when he traded for veteran center Nick Bonino before the season and then added Ian Cole early in the season. Bonino and Cole weren’t standouts but they both brought a veteran presence and had won Stanley Cups earlier in their careers. There is no doubt the two played a big role in helping shape things in the Wild’s locker room. Beverley has never missed the playoffs in nine NBA seasons and will add a defensive presence the Wolves badly need. The 33-year-old will be the oldest player on the Wolves and will be counted on to provide guidance and encouragement (especially when it comes to defense) in the locker room.
  • Write This Down: Center Marco Rossi and winger Matthew Boldy will be in the Wild’s opening night lineup on Oct. 15 in Anaheim.
  • Don’t sleep on Rossi or Boldy making a run at the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year, despite the fact this rookie class is loaded. Winger Kirill Kaprizov won the award last season.
  • While the Seahawks blew a 15-point halftime lead against the Titans and lost 33-30 in overtime in Week 2, the Vikings will have a second consecutive difficult assignment against a top quarterback on Sunday. Russell Wilson has an NFL-leading passer rating of 146.9 through two games and also leads the league in yards per attempt (11.1), ranks third in touchdowns (six) and is fifth in completion percentage (74.1). Wilson has yet to throw an interception this season. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is eighth in passer rating (112.9) and also has yet to throw an interception. Cousins has five touchdown passes.
  • Programming note: Former Vikings offensive lineman Alex Boone will join Phi Mackey, Declan Goff and me each Tuesday on our “Purple Daily” podcast. The show also will air at 5 p.m. each Tuesday on 1500 AM. On Boone’s first appearance, he talks about having been a teammate of Wilson’s late last season in Seattle and gives his thoughts on the Vikings’ opponent Sunday.
  • Kevin Kugler, former NFL quarterback Mark Sanchez and sideline reporter Laura Okmin will be on the call for Vikings-Seahawks on Fox.