Danielle Hunter is not currently participating in Vikings training camp, but that doesn't mean he's completely isolated from his team.
Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell told reporters on Saturday he's speaking with Hunter on a daily basis.
"We're still kind of in that on-going process," O'Connell said. "I'm having daily dialogue personally with him. My hope is we continue to work towards (finding common ground) over the course of a long training camp. He's played a lot of football, he'll be ready to go."
Minnesota made Hunter available to acquire via trade earlier this summer as part of an effort to turn the roster over toward the future. But the price for the 29-year-old edge rusher is understandably high and, so far, an offer of legitimacy hasn't materialized.
Because he knows general manager Kwesi Odofo-Mensah is keeping the phone lines open to suitors, Hunter is staying away from Vikings camp. That's fine with O'Connell, at least for now.
"My hope is that we can work toward him being out on the practice field with us sooner rather than later," O'Connell said. "He's been great. … I've not tried to hide my feelings. Danielle Hunter is a very special player. As soon as we can get him out here, you'll see him out here and our fans will see him out here."
It's been nearly two months since Minnesota first made Hunter available, and more than six weeks since O'Connell first left open the possibility of Hunter sticking around for 2023. The veteran is in the final year of his contract in 2023, so a trade would only amount to a rental, unless the team acquiring him would be interested in agreeing to an extension. Hunter also suffered a neck injury in 2020 that ended that season, and a torn pectoral cost him 10 games in 2021.
2022 should stand as proof that those concerns are behind him. Hunter recorded 10.5 sacks and scored a return trip to the Pro Bowl, the third of his career. He's shown he can still play at a high level. The only question that remains is how much that production is worth.
If Odofo-Mensah doesn't field a strong enough offer to consider parting ways with Hunter, it's fair to expect he returns to camp at some point -- potentially with a modified contract. He'll meet a defense that looks somewhat different after the departures of fellow defenders Za'Darius Smith and Dalvin Tomlinson to Cleveland, a sign of change that will likely continue into 2024 and could include Hunter leaving for a new destination.
For now, though, 2023 is all that matters. O'Connell didn't offer much of a timeline for when he might expect Hunter back, but did reveal Hunter is following a plan of preparation while on his own.
"He's got a schedule. Not going to really get into the details," O'Connell said. "That's kind of part of that daily dialogue between him and I. Making sure whether it's physical -- or above the neck -- and just trying to get himself prepared. As we continue to work toward that positive outcome, positive solution. Like I said, having No. 99 in purple would be my choice on that."
It sounds as if all parties understand the situation. Hunter's absence preserves his value on the trade market for the Vikings and also protects his greatest asset -- his health. Animosity doesn't appear to exist in this situation, at least not obviously so, which bodes well for a potential reunion during camp.
"I think there's a lot of aspects of it when you really start communicating with the player like I have with Danielle," O'Connell said. "Just for the most part, just the idea we use the time that we have so not only that we feel really good about his personal situation. But more importantly, Danielle feels really good about that situation."
The vibes are good, and time isn't running out -- yet. We'll wait to see if this changes in the weeks ahead.