Sunday morning, NFL fans woke up to the stunning news that Rick Spielman bolstered the Minnesota Vikings defense by trading for defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. Spielman is no stranger to making big trades. Most fans would agree, though, that this one was a surprise. The Vikings officially announced their trade for Ngakoue on Monday. He agreed to a one-year, $12 million fully guaranteed deal. Ngakoue gave up nearly $6 million to facilitate his trade to Minnesota.
Yannick Ngakoue and the Minnesota Vikings Defense
The Vikings will build their defense around Yannick Ngakoue and Danielle Hunter, two twenty-five-year-old defensive ends. The Vikings must be thrilled with this arrangement. Things were looking pretty dire along the d-line heading into the weekend.
Minnesota was understandably concerned about their d-line because of Michael Pierce’s decision to opt out and Hunter’s prolonged absence from camp. Without Pierce and Hunter, the starting defensive line would consist of a combination of Ifeadi Odenigbo, Jaleel Johnson, Shamar Stephen, Armon Watts, Eddie Yarbrough, and Jalyn Holmes. These players will be important for Minnesota’s success in the upcoming season, but they’d struggle without elite talent playing alongside them. For this reason, adding Ngakoue completely changes the complexion of the Vikings defense. Also, Hunter’s injury appears to be minor.
With Ngakoue at defensive end, opposing offenses won’t be able to focus all their attention on Hunter. Ngakoue has performed well in his four seasons in the NFL. Pro Football Focus gives him consistently strong grades. According to PFF, Ngakoue’s best season came in 2017 when he put forth an elite pass rush grade. PFF is less complimentary of Ngakoue’s run defense but having Odenigbo helps in this area. The Vikings now have balance on their defensive line.
Moreover, the Vikings have the flexibility to move Odenigbo inside. In Sunday’s press conference, Mike Zimmer suggested that moving Odenigbo into a three-technique would be a “natural progression.” Zimmer explained that they’ve “been looking for another pass rusher for quite a while,” and at least part of the motivation rests in Zimmer’s ability to have more flexibility along the line.
There is also an important impact on pass coverage. Ngakoue, Odenigbo, and Hunter will be a handful on passing downs. If they can consistently create pressure with just their four linemen, the Vikings can drop more players into coverage. Furthermore, Andre Patterson explained that having multiple elite pass rushers often forces teams to allocate an additional player(s) to pass protection. In so doing, there is one less route to cover and one less option for the quarterback. Minnesota’s corners are young, so having a formidable pass rush will help the secondary adjust to the NFL.
The Vikings can’t extend Ngakoue’s contract because the deadline has passed for players on the franchise tag. Even still, the Vikings are in a good position with Ngakoue.
In all likelihood, the Vikings will try to extend Ngakoue in the off-season (assuming he plays well). Over the Cap reports that the Vikings also have the flexibility to tag Ngakoue next season for around $16 million. If neither of these options are tenable, Ngakoue can find a new team in free agency. Doing so would result in Minnesota securing a compensatory pick, thus lessening the sting of trading away two draft picks.
In the meantime, Vikings fans should be thrilled about Ngakoue’s potential in Minnesota’s defense. By trading for Ngakoue, the Vikings have decisively refuted any notion that they’re rebuilding. On the contrary, the Vikings have signaled their commitment to winning both this season and beyond.