The Minnesota Vikings made a bold move on Sunday morning, acquiring Yannick Ngakoue from the Jacksonville Jaguars to help bolster their defensive line.
The second and conditional fifth-round picks to acquire the 25-year-old is a minimal cost for someone with Pro Bowl upside, but the bigger question for the Vikings is how Ngakoue can help them in 2020 and what happens next in an uncertain future for the cap-strapped Vikings.
Who is Yannick Ngakoue?
Ngakoue is a 25-year-old defensive end who was selected by the Jaguars in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. A former teammate of Stefon Diggs at Maryland, Ngakoue didn't take long to make an immediate impact, collecting eight or more sacks in all four seasons in Jacksonville.
Despite his success on the stat sheet, Pro Football Focus didn't see the same impact pass rusher, grading him with a 6.5 pass rusher productivity rating that ranked 53rd among qualifying edge rushers last season. He also graded 21st in pass-rush grade among edge rushers, which is slightly above average.
By comparison, Everson Griffen ranked 24th in pass-rush grade, but had a 7.3 PRP rating last season. With Griffen gone to Dallas, the Vikings could see Ngakoue as a younger version of Griffen which should make the rest of Mike Zimmer's rebuilt defense better.
Ngakoue's impact on the Vikings
As the Vikings trudged along in training camp, the defensive line became a major point of concern. After Michael Pierce opted out due to concerns with COVID-19, the Vikings were down to Jaleel Johnson and Shamar Stephen in the middle as starters with Danielle Hunter and Ifeadi Odenigbo on the edge.
But Hunter's injury – described by Zimmer as a "tweak" – has exposed the depth along the defensive line. Eddie Yarborough has been a surprise during camp, but the lack of another emerging option left the edge rushers thin, making the deal for Ngakoue logical from a pure depth standpoint.
Even Odenigbo seems to be a winner in this situation because it gives Zimmer more ways to deploy him. If the Vikings are committed to a rotation, Odenigbo can still get plenty of reps on the outside, but also played 120 of his snaps on the interior last season. This could give the Vikings more of a punch at three-technique if they choose to use Odenigbo there.
With more depth on the defensive line, the rest of the defense should get better including the inexperience the Vikings have at cornerback. This alone makes the trade a great move for 2020.
What happens next?
The interesting part of the deal happens once the Vikings' roster construction is brought into the equation. The Vikings aren't hurting for draft picks in the 2021 draft as they owned 12 prior to this trade. They also could get another compensatory pick after Trae Waynes left in free agency last spring.
Where the Vikings may feel the sting is in next year's cap situation, where they're $12 million over the cap in 2021, per Spotrac. Such a number could make it difficult not only to get a long-term deal done with Ngakoue but also with safety Anthony Harris and running back Dalvin Cook.
If there's one that has a chance of being extended, it's Ngakoue as he's the youngest at a position of importance. The Vikings could theoretically let Cook walk and roll with Alexander Mattison this season and the team has historically not invested in safeties.
But there are also several veterans who may have their contracts restructured heading into 2021, including Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, and Hunter, who could be working on an extension as we speak to make room for Ngakoue.
Even if Ngakoue walks, the Vikings would be in a similar situation that the Seattle Seahawks were in when acquiring Jadeveon Clowney one year ago. The Vikings spent less, added their mercenary, and could walk away with another compensatory pick in 2021 if they can't retain Ngakoue long term.
All of this blends into a very good deal for the Vikings and if Hunter's "tweak" isn't a long-term injury, Rick Spielman has at least put his team in a place to compete for a playoff spot in 2020.