AnalysisOpinion

Much Ado About Yannick Ngakoue

The Minnesota Vikings are in a bit of a sticky situation when it comes to defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. When Rick Spielman made the move to get the disgruntled Ngakoue from the Jacksonville Jaguars, it was heralded as a genius move to capture a talented player at a premier position. Now, a month and a half later, fans and writers alike are wondering what Ngakoue’s new team should do with him.

When approaching a situation like the Vikings have on their hands, it’s important to consider as many factors as possible. First, the trade that brought Ngakoue to Minnesota and why it happened.

Danielle Hunter’s neck injury can claim most, but not all, of the credit for Spielman’s move to target another star pass rusher. Hunter missed time during training camp for what, at the time, was downplayed by head coach Mike Zimmer as a “tweak.” We’re now five weeks into the season, and there is zero sign of Hunter making a return any time soon. 

In the absence of Hunter, Minnesota needed somebody to try to pressure quarterbacks, especially since they are also now without long-time emotional leader Everson Griffen and solid role player Stephen Weatherly. So, much like when Teddy Bridewater suffered a catastrophic injury in 2016, Spielman was quick to find another option to fill in for Hunter.

We can’t know for certain whether the front office knew at the time how long Hunter would be out, but we can assume that they knew that he had a bigger issue than a tweak. This makes the move for Ngakoue seem less like a shrewd, aggressive move and more like a desperate attempt to replace one of the best players in the NFL.

Not all moves that are made out of necessity are bad. The Vikings only gave up a 2021 second and 2021 conditional fifth round draft pick for Ngakoue, which is peanuts compared to his production over his career. That price gets even better when you consider that Minnesota already holds nine picks in 2021, and they will likely receive more for the players lost in free agency this offseason. That conditional fifth round pick could end up as high as a third, if Ngakoue makes the pro bowl and the Vikings win the Super Bowl. (HA!)

Despite this low draft capital price, Ngakoue comes at a higher salary price. Although he took a pay cut of about $7 million to come play in purple this season, there is still no extension in place for after 2020. Despite this lower salary, Ngakoue is still the fourth highest paid Viking, behind only Anthony Barr, Dalvin Cook, and Kirk Cousins.

Ngakoue is in a position where he will need to be paid a hefty sum to stay in Minnesota. He is an unrestricted free agent after this season although the trade to bring him in did not include a no-tag clause and the Vikings could place him under next year’s franchise tag if an extension is too rich for their blood. For reference, Ngakoue is currently the eighth highest paid defensive end in the NFL at $12 million this season.

We have to question why Ngakoue wanted out of Jacksonville. Maybe he didn’t like Gardner Minshew’s moustache. It’s possible that he just hates the harsh Florida weather. Or perhaps he didn’t want to be part of a team that only achieved more than six wins once in his time there. 

If it was a desire to get off of a losing team, he might not be in the most willing mood to negotiate with Minnesota. After two one point losses in the last three weeks, the Vikings are in sole possession of last place in the NFC North. They are a long way from the team that won ten games last season and snatched a playoff victory against the New Orleans Saints.

Ngakoue has had issues this season against the run, posting an abysmal 38.2 Pro Football Focus run defense grade. That grade makes him the seventh worst run defending defensive end on PFF’s scale. 

In Ngakoue’s defense, he hasn’t had any help from the Vikings biggest offseason acquisition. Prior to the trade for Ngakoue, Michael Pierce opted out of the season due to health concerns if he were to contract COVID. The absence of Danielle Hunter is a huge part of why Ngakoue isn’t more effective. If Hunter was playing, Ngakoue would be the Vikings defensive lineman that received the second most attention on any given play.

As it stands, Ngakoue is trying to do a lot with very little, but he also hasn’t lived up to his own standards. We can’t know whether he is frustrated with his situation, but we can say that he forced himself out of one situation he didn’t like in the past.

Minnesota’s front office and coaching staff seems to have a very good rapport with their current and former players, and its situation is very different from that of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Vikings are having a rough season, but they invested a lot of draft capital in their defense and for all their losses, they have one loss that I would consider to be bad.

Minnesota should be 3-2 and in the thick of a playoff hunt, but the NFL is sometimes a cruel and unforgiving mistress. The value that Minnesota would receive back for Ngakoue isn’t going to be what they paid unless a playoff team really wants to add a pass rusher.

I’ve stated multiple times that Minnesota’s plans were to try to be competitive this season, but keep an eye on 2021 and beyond. Trading a young pass rusher with the potential to form the best pass rushing duo in the NFL doesn’t fit that plan. Maybe Ngakoue doesn’t stay past this season, but I think it incredibly unlikely that he is moved from a defense that needs all the help it can get.

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Kirby O'Connor

Kirby O'Connor is a graduate of Saint Mary's University of Minnesota, where he studied Electronic Publishing and minored in Art. Kirby is a lifelong, die-hard Vikings fan thanks to his father. You can find him on Twitter @kjocon14.

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