Sunday morning. That’s kind of a weird time to drop this big of news, isn’t it?
I suppose at the end of the day football news never sleeps, and as a result many fans were awaking from their peaceful slumber (or debilitating hangover) with electrifying news that has the potential to change the future of the Vikings for years to come.
The Vikings traded for Yannick Ngakoue, a 25-year old Pro-Bowl edge rusher. The perfect addition to a diminished defensive line, the perfect pair next to Danielle Hunter, and the perfect building block to help lead the young defense.
And, surprisingly, it didn’t take much. The Jacksonville Jaguars accepted just a second-round and conditional fifth-round pick for the deal, something even the most diehard pessimist couldn’t help but smile at.
After the excitement faded and I watched all the YouTube highlights I could muster, I got to thinking.
Are we sure this trade is completely a good thing?
Stop screaming; I know adding a 25-year old Pro-Bowl player to a team for next to nothing is always a good thing.
I’m just saying I think there are some implications here that people are too blinded by optimism to realize.
There’s the good side, yes, but there’s also an ugly side that I think many fans are sweeping under the rug.
Just a few months ago, fans and pundits alike were lamenting a number of key departures.
The likes of Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander had all gone for greener pastures, and it seemed like it was both the end of the era, and the start of a very uncertain future.
Gone were the familiar faces many were used to seeing on Sundays, and in came the new blood that would be forced to step up to fill the void. As such, many had defeated expectations going into the new campaign.
But early Sunday morning, the Vikings emerged from the proverbial ashes with a vital piece to a new defensive core – a core fans may get used to seeing for many years to come.
On the defensive line, adding an edge rusher of Ngakoue’s caliber certainly eases the loss of Everson Griffen, while instantly creating one of the best edge rushing duos in the NFL alongside Danielle Hunter.
In the secondary, optimistic reports have been coming out about the young cornerback unit, making the early-season doom and gloom feel overblown. Cameron Dantzler is the early-season darling, Jeff Gladney is learning quickly, and Mike Hughes and Holton Hill look to be promising starters heading into the season.
Danielle Hunter, Yannick Ngakoue, Eric Kendricks, Cameron Dantzler, Jeff Gladney, Mike Hughes, and Holton Hill are starting to feel like something coherent — a coherence that has an average age of 24 years old.
Is this the new defensive core for the next two, three, four years?
Whether you’re ready to fully buy-in to my purple-intoxicated optimism yet or not, it’s hard not to get excited about the new look of the Viking’s defensive line.
If you’re unfamiliar, Ngakoue is a 25-year old edge rusher with the ability to terrorize an offensive line. In his 2017 Pro-Bowl season, he tallied 12 sacks, forced 6 fumbles, and racked up an elite 14% pressure rate.
The best part being that Ngakoue is not a Danielle Hunter clone – but a complement.
Hunter has tallied 17 more sacks than Ngakoue, but Ngakoue is adept at creating turnovers, forcing 14 fumbles over his career to Hunter’s 6.
Sacks are momentum changing — fumble recoveries are game changing.
With Hunter and Ngakoue both at 25 years old, we may have witnessed the birth of a new elite defensive line; a line that has the potential to terrorize the NFC North — and the league as a whole — for years to come.
That is the biggest phrase one should be focusing on when evaluating this trade: What If?.
While on paper this trade looks fantastic for the Vikings, there are a number of question marks that fans should be thinking about heading into the season.
After having an outstanding 2017 season, Ngakoue hasn’t been able to match those numbers since. He hasn’t been bad, but if you were to describe Ngakoue’s 2017 season as elite, you would describe his years since as above average, failing to eclipse 10 sacks in two straight seasons.
What if he doesn’t return to form and his Pro-Bowl season was an anomaly caused by being on an elite Jacksonville defense?
That year, Ngakoue shared the defensive side of the ball with defensive lineman Malik Jackson and Calais Campbell, linebacker Telvin Smith, and cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, who all made the Pro-Bowl.
Was that year a season of brilliance for Ngakoue? Or was it a byproduct of opposing offenses being preoccupied with four other Pro-Bowl talents?
What if, next offseason, he requests an “elite-level” contract for “above-average” performance, and the Vikings can’t come to an agreement due to limited cap space?
It is reported that the Vikings have the ability to use a franchise tag on him in 2021, but how will that affect the morale of a player who left $6 million on the table just to leave his previous organization?
What if this trade was a one-year rental?
While this transaction is a fairly low-risk gamble due to both the Vikings receiving a compensatory pick if Ngakoue leaves, and the uncertainty of 2021 NFL Draft picks as a whole, it’s never smart to throw away assets.
Should Ngakoue become overpaid, disgruntled, or sign with another organization after the 2020 NFL Season, this trade will be seen as a lost opportunity for the Vikings.