Vikings DE Danielle Hunter has neck surgery, out for 2020 season

Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints is pursued by Danielle Hunter #99 of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Mercedes Benz Superdome on January 05, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. ((Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images))

What started as a “little tweak” has turned into season-ending surgery for Minnesota Viking star defensive end Danielle Hunter.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer confirmed Wednesday Hunter had neck surgery on Tuesday. It was successful, and he’ll miss the remainder of the 2020 season. Hunter’s last practice with the Vikings came on Aug. 14, and they placed him on injured reserve before their Week 1 game against the Green Bay Packers.

Zimmer says Hunter initially felt discomfort after thinking he slept on his neck wrong. An MRI done sometime during training camp showed it was more severe.

“When you guys give me crap about this thing being a tweak, when it all started, he woke up and thought he slept on his neck wrong, so that’s why it was a tweak,” Zimmer said.

Hunter’s injury has been widely reported to be a herniated disc in his neck. With the Vikings off to a 1-5 start and playoff hopes all but vanished, Hunter opted to have surgery and be back fresh for the 2021 season.

Zimmer said they looked at film from training camp to see where the injury might have occurred, and couldn’t pinpoint one play.

“It was hardly anything. When we went back and looked at the tape from whatever it was, a week later, it could’ve happened to anybody at any point,” Zimmer said.

The Vikings were hoping Hunter, who had 14.5 sacks last season, could pair with Yannick Ngakoue to be the top edge rushing duo in the NFL. But now Hunter is out for the year, and the Vikings traded Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens next week.

Zimmer said while there isn’t a timetable for Hunter’s return, he expects him back next year.

“He should be back playing football again,” Zimmer said.

The Vikings will feature a defense the rest of the season without Hunter, Ngakoue, Anthony Barr, George Iloka and Michael Pierce after he opted out before the season. They've also had to deal with injuries from Mike Hughes, Kris Boyd, Holton Hill and Cameron Dantzler to complicate matters in an already thin secondary.

Dalvin Cook to practice Wednesday, hopes to return at Green Bay

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is optimistic that he’ll be on the field Sunday against the Packers after missing the loss to the Atlanta Falcons with a groin injury. Cook injured his left groin on the first play of the third quarter in Minnesota’s 27-26 loss at Seattle.

Entering that game, Cook was leading the NFL in rushing. Cook said Wednesday he used the bye week to rest, recover and rebuild strength in the groin.

“I was good. That extra week helped me get back to feeling good, just getting back to feeling like Dalvin so it was really important, what I needed. I feel good, I’m going to go out here and practice and we’ll go from there,” Cook said.

Despite missing the Falcons’ game, Cook is still in the top five in rushing in the NFL.

“I assume that he’ll be ready. We haven’t practiced yet today, but today will be a good test for us. He’ll be out there today,” Zimmer said.