The Jaguars finally gave Yannick Ngakoue what he was asking for. No, not a long-term contract. That ship had sailed months ago with Ngakoue recently doubling down on a trade demand he made at the start of the offseason.
That trade finally came Sunday morning when the Vikings sent a second-round pick and a conditional fifth-round pick to Jacksonville for the 25-year-old pass rusher with 37.5 career sacks to his name.
Ngakoue is set to play on the franchise tag, which would have paid him just over $17 million for the season before he agreed to reduce the number down to “a little under $13 million” in order to make the trade work for Minnesota, according to Albert Breer.
With Minnesota giving up two draft picks, including a second-rounder, one would assume Ngakoue is seen as a foundational piece for this defense that has gotten a lot younger this offseason. But the Vikings already have some pretty big mouths to feed next offseason with the contracts of Anthony Harris and back Dalvin Cook expiring in March. With only $29 million in projected cap space for 2021 — and what is expected to be a reduced salary cap next season — the Vikings will likely have to let a key player (or two) walk next spring in order to keep Ngakoue around.
The Vikings and Ngakoue are unable to negotiate a long-term deal until next spring, so there’s at least a possibility that this turns into a one-year rental. If that turns out to be the case, this is probably an overpay for Minnesota. Ngakoue is a good (but not great) pass rusher who fills an immediate need, but the team wasn’t one edge defender away from competing with the NFC’s best teams.
Even if Ngakoue reaches his peak of 2017 — which is very possible now that he’s healthy and being coached by one of the best defensive staffs in the NFL — the Vikings aren’t competing for a Super Bowl in 2020. For this deal to really work out in their favor, they’ll have to get a long-term deal done. And considering the fact that Ngakoue turned down an offer that would have paid him $19 million a year in Jacksonville, that long-term deal is going to be an expensive one.
Ngakoue is still very young and it’s possible that he develops into an elite pass rusher under the tutelage of Mike Zimmer and respected defensive line coach Andre Patterson, but, for now, he seems to be in that awkward spot where’s good enough to demand top dollar but not good enough to justify a team paying him that money.
It’s a risky deal but there really isn’t a wide range of outcomes here for Minnesota. At best, the Vikings gave up second- and fifth-round picks for the right to overpay Ngakoue next offseason. At worst, he’s an expensive one-year rental. But barring a significant injury to Ngakoue, he’ll be productive in 2020 so there’s little chance this turns into a deal that haunts Minnesota; at the same time, it’s not one that’s going to add a ton of value beyond this season.
The Jaguars botched this situation last offseason when they didn’t get Ngakoue signed to a long-term deal. It was never going to end well, but turning a disgruntled player into two draft picks, including a Day 2 selection, should make it easier for fans in Jacksonville to stomach losing another key piece from that 2017 defense.
Only months ago, the Jags had to settle for a fifth-round pick for Calais Campbell. And last year, the Texans managed only a third-rounder and a few replacement-level players for Jadeveon Clowney, who was in a similar contract situation. A second-round pick is really the best the Jaguars could have hoped for at this point in the offseason, and it adds to an already impressive collection of draft capital.
Let’s just assume the conditional fifth-round pick remains a fifth-round pick, which is the most likely outcome given the conditions.
The Jaguars now have 11 picks in next year’s draft, including four on the first two days alone. Jacksonville could be bad enough to land the first-overall pick on its own; but even if it isn’t, the front office now has more than enough capital to move up to that spot in order to draft the quarterback of its choice. With next year’s class including Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, it’s a good spot to be in.
It’s still early in the game, but it appears the Jaguars are taking a smart approach to this rebuild. They’ve shed all of the high-priced veterans on the roster and built up a cache of draft picks that will allow them to add cheap, young talent and/or trade for undervalued veterans. That’s how the smartest teams in the league have built their rosters, and it’s been we’ve been able to use the word “smart” unironically when discussing the Jaguars.
Steven Ruiz is a columnist at For The Win. He writes about the NFL and makes fancy graphics from time to time.
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The Vikings needed a second pass rusher but they’ll have to pay a steep price to keep Yannick Ngakoue in Minnesota.
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