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Zulgad’s Roundup: Vikings’ coaching staff taking shape; decision must be made on DE Hunter

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Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Minneapolis. The Vikings won 20-7. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Kevin O’Connell won’t officially become the Vikings’ head coach until after the Rams play the Bengals on Sunday in the Super Bowl, but that hasn’t stopped Los Angeles’ offensive coordinator from beginning to build his assistant coaching staff.

The staff will include a veteran defensive coordinator in Ed Donatell, who reportedly has accepted the position and officially will be named to the job next week. That could come at the same time the Vikings hold a press conference introducing O’Connell as Mike Zimmer’s replacement.

Donatell, 65, has been an NFL assistant for 31 years, spending 10 of those as a defensive coordinator with Green Bay (2000-03), Atlanta (2004-06) and Denver (2019-21). The Broncos were third in the NFL this season in fewest points given up (18.9 per game) and eighth in yards (326.1 per game). Donatell had been expected to join the Seattle Seahawks as a senior defensive consultant before this opportunity with the Vikings came along.

New Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is familiar with Donatell from their time together in San Francisco. Adofo-Mensah was the 49ers’ manager of research and football development, while Donatell was the defensive backs coach in 2013 and ’14.

Vic Fangio, a longtime defensive assistant and coordinator in the NFL, had Donatell on his staff before he was fired as Broncos coach following this past season. Fangio and Donatell ran a 3-4 scheme in Denver and the Vikings could switch to a 3-4 defense for the first time since 1985.

Considering the Vikings’ defense needs plenty of work after a disappointing 2021 under Zimmer, this would be as good of time as any to hit the reset button. Linebacker Anthony Barr almost certainly will leave as a free agent and there are decisions to be made on veterans such as middle linebacker Eric Kendricks and safety Harrison Smith.

The biggest question will be what happens with Danielle Hunter? The talented defensive end could adjust to standing up in a 3-4 scheme but would he want to do that? There also is the issue of Hunter’s longtime position coach Andre Patterson reportedly leaving the Vikings on Thursday to become the Giants’ defensive line coach. Hunter and Patterson are close, and Hunter is unlikely to be happy with Patterson’s departure.

The most important topic, of course, is money. Hunter’s salary cap hit for 2022 is set to be $26.1 million, with an $18 million roster bonus due to be paid on the fifth day of the league year in March. That can be converted to a signing bonus and spread across the remaining years of the restructured five-year contract to which he agreed last June.

Hunter could get another reworked contract, or the Vikings might look to move on from him. Ideally, Hunter stays in Minnesota but it will be interesting to see what type of relationship exists between the two-time Pro Bowl selection and the Vikings’ new brass.

Hunter, 27, had back-to-back seasons of 14.5 sacks in 2018 and ’19 but missed all of 2020 after having surgery to fix a herniated disc in his neck. He played in seven games and had six sacks in 2021 before suffering a season-ending torn pectoral muscle against the Cowboys.

One has to wonder if Hunter’s injury issues will cause the Vikings to rethink his future in Minnesota?

  • The Vikings are reportedly set to hire former Denver Broncos Pro Bowl guard Chris Kuper as their offensive line coach, according to NFL reporter Aaron Wilson. Kuper was a fifth-round pick of the Broncos in 2006 out of North Dakota and retired after the 2013 season. He spent time on the Miami Dolphins’ coaching staff and was the Broncos’ assistant offensive line coach for the past three seasons. Another Broncos’ assistant, Curtis Modkins, is expected to be named the Vikings’ running backs coach and run game coordinator.
  • Sachin Gupta, the Timberwolves’ executive vice president of basketball operations, did not make any moves before the NBA trade deadline on Tuesday afternoon. Center Montrezl Harrell was linked to the Wolves in trade rumors but Washington ended up sending him to Charlotte, whom the Wolves will play host to on Tuesday. Gupta, by the way, still hasn’t been named the Wolves’ president of basketball operations.
  • Gersson Rosas, who held the Wolves’ POBO title until he was fired last September, has reportedly been hired as a consultant by the New York Knicks. That means the last two men to run the Wolves’ basketball operations, Tom Thibodeau and Rosas, are now co-workers at Madison Square Garden.
  • The Ottawa Senators have interest in Wild winger Kevin Fiala, according to Ottawa radio host and former NHL executive Shawn Simpson. While Wild general manager Bill Guerin almost certainly isn’t going to part with Fiala before the March 21 NHL trade deadline, it’s very possible he will look to move the restricted free agent this summer. Fiala is set to be a UFA after the 2022-23 season and is currently playing on a one-year, $5.1 million deal. The Wild will have salary-cap issues the next three seasons so a big name is likely to have to be moved for prospects.
  • Three Gophers men’s hockey players helped the U.S. Olympic team to an 8-0 victory over China in their opening game on Thursday in Beijing. Ben Meyers had a goal and two assists and Matthew Knies and Brock Faber each had an assist. The U.S. will face Canada in its next game at 10:10 p.m. on Friday.
  • Forget spring training, it’s looking more unlikely by the day that Major League Baseball’s season will start on time as the owners continue to lock out the players. If there’s any good news for Minnesota baseball fans, it’s that the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate, the St. Paul Saints, will put single-game tickets on sale on Feb. 26. There will be 75 home games this season at CHS Field with the home opener set for April 12 against Indianapolis. Players on the Twins’ 40-man roster won’t be eligible to take part, if the lockout is still ongoing.
  • The owners reportedly will make a proposal to the MLB Players Association on Saturday when the sides meet in New York for the fifth time since commissioner Rob Manfred locked out the players in early December. Don’t hold your breath.