The week before the first game of the season against the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings-land was set aflame by the addition of young, stud defensive end Yannick Ngakoue via a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags had essentially no players left from the stifling defense that brought them to within four points of the Super Bowl in 2017/18, and decided to trade the unhappy Ngakoue to the Vikings for a second-and-fifth round pick. Now the Vikings are entering Jags territory as the other loser from that season’s conference championship round, by trading Ngakoue to the Ravens… For less than they gave up to get him. The Vikings reportedly have received a third-and-fifth round pick from Baltimore, although the fifth-rounder could become a fifth-rounder should Ngakoue be a first-ballot Pro Bowler in 2020.
At the time of the Ngakoue trade, it wasn’t known by anyone outside of the Vikings organization just how injured Danielle Hunter was. During camp we kept hearing it was a “tweak” that was brought on by bad conditioning, then it turned out that he had a herniated disk in his neck that both his first and second opinion doctors said was severe enough to end his 2020 season. So, the Ngakoue move went from creating the potential of the most feared defensive end combo in the league in 2020 to one that had Ngakoue replacing Hunter until he was healthy enough to return in 2021.
That, combined with some of the other players added this past off-season (like Justin Jefferson, or Jeff Gladney) and the awful start to the 2020 season had a lot of us pining for enough NyQuil to sleep until next season as it was thought that the Vikings could grow their young players this season, get a great draft pick next season, and then hit the ground running come Week 1 of the 2021 season with a mix of their great veterans and some promising young talent, as well.
Well, now that’s all up in the air after a loss to the formerly winless Atlanta Falcons essentially created an atmosphere where nearly every Vikings news website and writer has been talking about tearing the team down and starting mostly from scratch. While you can’t necessarily say that this move is the beginning of that, with other veterans on the Vikings defense (the ones that remain, anyway) like Harrison Smith or Eric Kendricks, still having good trade value but they are locked into longer-term contracts where as there was no guarantee that Ngakoue would re-sign with the Vikings after this season.
However, the fact that the Vikings received less for him than they gave up, could be a sign that the team is really starting from scratch on defense, especially. While no one could’ve predicted how bad this season was going to be (outside of yours truly, of course), the team should’ve seen this coming, which makes the extension of Kirk Cousins all the more frustrating as they’ve never bothered drafting anyone to create any semblance of a clean pocket for him to pass from, so you essentially broke the bank to sign a guy with a completely avoidable weakness that time-and-time again the team has shown they can’t be bothered to spend even a third-or-fourth round pick to mitigate.
Instead, now, you’re left with a team that’ll have a Cousins who will be in his mid-30’s and making a fully guaranteed $45 million in 2022 (which some people think won’t happen as Cousins dead cap is $10 million in 2022, which is true, but the part they’re missing is that that amount is fully guaranteed once the third day of operations happens in the 2021 season, which due to his $40 million dollar cap hit that year will make it impossible for the team to cut him)), and essentially no reason to keep him around as the window of using him to get over the hump has clearly closed.
Add on top of that the recent extension of Dalvin Cook, who has yet again missed a game due to a non-contact soft tissue injury, and you could be faced with over 30% of your cap going to two guys who are getting paid a lot of money to win pointless games, one of which is (fairly or unfairly) loathed by an increasing percentage of fans.
Even if the Ngakoue trade isn’t a harbinger of things to come, it’s clear that the team knows that the 2020 team is nowhere good enough to keep Ngakoue around (who may have had his agent tell the team that he won’t resign, which would make this move more palatable), it’s becoming harder and harder to see this season as a potential one-off brought on by growing pains. Instead, it feels like the start to a few seasons of futility, which the Vikings may be speeding up by trading their remaining veterans on defense to open up cap space, inadvertently #TankforTrevororAnyoneWhoIsntAnotherCorner, and amassing as many draft picks as possible.
If that’s the case, let’s hope that the team also either learns from its mistakes (something they showed they’re incapable of during April’s draft, a draft in which they took FIVE defensive backs and ONE guard out of 15 picks, with the guard being the 15th pick and second to the last pick in the ENTIRE draft), either in terms of finally drafting some (interior) offensive lineman or by finding a new head coach to give this team a true fresh start. Then, we can see just how much of the draft from recent seasons was Zimmer and how much was Spielman, and make moves accordingly after that.
Either way, giving up Ngakoue for less than you gave up for him six weeks ago isn’t going to do anything but further dampen Vikings fans’ spirits. Something that I thought would be impossible, barring a trade of Adam Thielen.