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Vikings HC Kevin O'Connell can see retaining Danielle Hunter as 'real outcome' despite trade rumors

Danielle Hunter's future in Minnesota is in jeopardy, and he could become the latest Vikings veteran to pack his bags for a new destination.

It's not guaranteed, though, at least not in the eyes of coach Kevin O'Connell.

"Yeah, I would like to think so," O'Connell said Tuesday when asked if he thinks the situation with Hunter is resolvable, per the team transcript. "When I say 'solution-oriented,' that is definitely one of the solutions that hopefully we can work towards. But obviously when you've been here for one season and you've really formed relationships and bonds, those are really strong, but he's played for the Vikings for a lot longer than I've been here.

"And whatever has kind of transpired over the years that helped form the current relationship -- positive as it may be -- my role is, like I said, continuing to coach our team and try to help shape not only the roles for each one of our players, Danielle included, but how it all comes together. That's why I try to work hand-in-hand with Kwesi. But I definitely see that as a real outcome, but there's a lot to be determined there, and I want to be very sensitive to allowing that process to play out for both our organization and for Danielle."

O'Connell used a lot of words to deliver a reply that can be boiled down to a succinct response: Sure, it's possible.

Minnesota isn't going to part with an edge rusher of Hunter's caliber unless they receive adequate compensation that can help general manager Kwesi Odofo-Mensah improve the team for the long run. But parting with Hunter wouldn't come a surprise, either, especially considering how Odofo-Mensah has slowly chipped away at an aging roster this offseason.

In 2023 alone, the Vikings said goodbye to receiver Adam Thielen, linebacker Eric Kendricks, edge rusher Za'Darius Smith and, most recently, running back Dalvin Cook. Most of the aforementioned players are 30 or older, save for Cook. Hunter would be the second notable Viking under 30 to be sent elsewhere.

A legitimate case can be made for trading Hunter. He's entering the final year of his current contract, turns 29 in October and isn't getting any younger. If ever there was a time to maximize their return on Hunter, it's now.

But as Hunter demonstrated in 2022, he still carries plenty of value. The defensive end recorded 10.5 sacks in his first season back from a neck injury and returned to the Pro Bowl for the third time in his seven-season career.

Minnesota won 13 games last year thanks in large part to the contributions of many of the players listed above. Now, they're proceeding without them, instead relying on the likes of Alexander Mattison, Justin Jefferson, Marcus Davenport, Byron Murphy and Kirk Cousins, the last of whom could also find himself with a new team a year from now.

It's clear Odofo-Mensah is attempting to turn over the roster toward a younger group. The timing of when (or if) Hunter departs remains unknown. With these rumors swirling, Hunter has decided to skip mandatory minicamp, subjecting himself to rolling fines.

The time away could end with a new employer for Hunter -- unless the Vikings instead decide to retain him on a new deal.

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