What the Ngakoue trade was supposed to offer: A tandem of Danielle Hunter and Yannick Ngakoue as the most ferocious bookending pass-rushers in the NFL.
What the Ngakoue trade offered, in reality: A stop-gap to bolster defensive line competence while Danielle Hunter is on the mend from a neck injury.
These are the stakes. On August 30th, 2020, Yannick Ngakoue was dealt to the Minnesota Vikings early on a Sunday morning for a second-round pick in 2021 and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2022. Ngakoue was at a contractual impasse with the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team in full sell-off mode after reaching the AFC Championship just three seasons ago. The Vikings seized the bait and sought to employ a duo of EDGE rushers that would inspire nightmares.
For now, the Hunter-Ngakoue pairing is a phantasm. Danielle Hunter has not played a single down of football in the 2020 season. The prognosis for his immediate playing time is bleak. Breadcrumbs are hitting the floor in Eagan, Minnesota, that indicate Hunter will miss significantly longer than the three weeks that was originally forecasted.
Instead of the Hunter and Ngakoue wreaking havoc on Sunday afternoons, Minnesota is embedded in an experiment of Ifeadi Odenigbo and Ngakoue as its defensive ends. The Vikings are 0-3 with a defense that second-to-last in the NFL in points allowed.
While 2021 will probably be the year of Hunter and Ngakoue headlining the Vikings defensive line, the Ngakoue trade in late August was an enacted measure merely to avoid an Ifeadi Odengibo-Jalyn Holmes pass-rushing combination.
Not a Tweak
With the 2020 makeshift preseason in full swing, Hunter mysteriously missed all semblances of practice. Most folks were not too alarmed at the onset of this predicament as injuries and football are wholly synonymous. As the days mounted, though, it became eerily apparent that something was ailing Hunter that was grimmer than a simple tweak-like injury.
Those fears culminated when Hunter was placed on the miniature Injured Reserve list right before the 2020 regular season began. Hunter was slated to miss the first three games of the season, and that is the “YOU ARE HERE” arrow on the map in which our eyeballs are currently fixated.
Days before the Week 4 matchup with Houston Texans takes place, Hunter is now getting second opinions on his neck injury, a practice that generally demonstrates an unfavorable first diagnosis. Because the Vikings have cloaked Hunter’s malady in secrecy, it is not vividly knowable what Hunter’s next steps may be.
What we do know is that brakes have forcefully pumped on the utopian merger of Danielle Hunter and Yannick Ngakoue.
Limited Pressure so far in 2020
Minnesota has been an unfortunate recipient of turmoil without the standard four-game preseason a normal NFL season would present. The cornerback room is stuff-full to the gills with young players and those men are now obligated to rapidly mature on the fly. As a result, the Vikings are owners of the NFL’s fifth-worst passing defense when adjudicated by passing yards allowed.
Upfront, the pass-rush has been teensy. Minnesota has notched a collective four sacks thus far in 2020, a total that ranks 27th in the NFL. Last season, the Vikings ranked fifth in the business in sacks, so the variance is striking. However, this can be reasonably expected when the two main pass-rushers – Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen – are not on the field or no longer with the team.
Ngakoue has personally forced a couple of fumbles, his modus operandi. It is theorized his performance will continue to improve as he becomes more acclimated to Mike Zimmer’s system and philosophy.
But, so far, the Vikings can feel it in their bones that Danielle Hunter is sorely missed. The enthusiasm for an ungodly twosome of Hunter and Ngakoue has metastasized into a “let’s hope they can get just a little bit of pressure this week” mindset.
Ifeadi Odenigbo and Jalyn Holmes?
Although there is no explicit evidence to suggest that the Vikings front office knew that Danielle Hunter’s injury would disable the 25-year-old from playing at all in 2020, there is smoke-and-fire to hint that the Ngakoue trade was a quasi-panic transaction. Assuredly, the trade will pay dividends when Hunter and Ngakoue can finally tango together. But for now, Vikings loyalists have no concrete timetable for that dance.
General manager Rick Spielman quite frankly could have been staring at a depth chart that had Ifeadi Odenigbo and Jalyn Holmes as its starting defensive ends – if he had suspicions that Hunter would miss extended time. Odenigbo showed ample promise late in 2019, and Holmes, too, is a relative newcomer. Nonetheless, these two men would have combined to inspire a very limited magnitude of fear for opposing offensive coordinators. Keep in mind – this just one season removed from the Hunter-Griffen duplet that the Vikings boasted for five seasons. And they induced fear.
Think about it: if you had knowledge that Hunter would be out for a considerable period of time, do you embark on a season [where you portray your team as Super Bowl contender] with Odenidbo and Holmes as your pressure merchants? Or, do you leverage your immediate future to acquire a sure-thing in Ngakoue with an inkling aforethought that the former Jaguar, at some point, will conjoin with Danielle Hunter on Sundays?
You pull the trigger on the trade because Ngakoue helps you win now and perhaps Hunter will receive good news at the doctor’s office. The only wildcard is that nobody expected the Minnesota Vikings to be winless after three weeks.