Yannick Ngakoue Headed to the Vikings

The Yannick Ngakoue saga appears to be over with the Vikings agreeing to send a 2nd round pick and another conditional pick to Jacksonville for the star pass rusher.

The landing spot here was a major surprise. Minnesota had spent most of the offseason getting their salary cap a bit more under control and seemed to have an eye on the future. This move will completely change that dynamic.

We estimate the Vikings to have just $12.5 million in cap space, which is not enough to fit Ngakoue’s one year contract which is worth $17.788 million. This is all assuming that the Jaguars are not eating any salary as part of the trade. When the Texans, in a similar situation with Jadeveon Clowney, moved their star they paid half the deal to facilitate a trade. I would think that is unlikely in this case but it would make this much more appealing from the Vikings perspective for what sure seems like a out of nowhere decision from the team.

If the Jaguars are not picking up salary, then that means to just execute the trade the Vikings will need to create over $5 million in cap room. They will also need room to function once the regular season starts so most likely they will need to create $8 million in space. Ngakoue’s number is locked in for the year unless he agreed to a paycut which would seem very unlikely.

To create that space the team would likely look to restructure some deals to push cap into the future. There are only two cuts they can make with notable savings, left tackle Riley Reiff ($11M savings), and safety Harrison Smith ($8.9M savings), neither of whom would seem likely given they should be starting for the Vikings this season.

The Vikings don’t have a ton of spots to create big cap space with the most likely candidates for a restructure are Anthony Barr and Kirk Cousins. Restructuring Barr’s contract would allow them to create just under $7 million while Cousins would free up $5.6 million. Both could be a bit higher if they added void seasons to the contracts. Other options would be to extend Smith or double down and push some money into next season for Reiff and Smith.

In any case all this does is push money into the future for the Vikings where they were already on a tight cap. They currently have the 9th least projected cap space in the NFL in 2021 and now have two franchise players to make a decision on. Tagging Ngakoue a second time would cost $21.345 million while tagging Anthony Harris a second time would cost $13.7 million. Minnesota does have roster flexibility in terms of being able to release veterans or restructure veteran deals next year.

The trade of Ngakoue pretty much finalizes the complete tear down of a Jaguars defense that for one year fooled the league and the team that they were good enough to carry the team from a perennial cellar dweller into a title contender. Things fell apart for a number of reasons in Jacksonville and Ngakoue refused to play for them this year. To get a 2nd round pick and a conditional second pick is pretty fair for the team at this stage. They may have had better options in the offseason but the two sides seemed to be butting heads at that point and the Jaguars were reportedly dug in on some things that they were not going to get.

The Jaguars cap space this year will rise to around $33 million and they will now project to be 2nd in the NFL in cap room next year. In a normal year that would be around $105 million but with the cap expected to fall dramatically it will be closer to $65 million. In any event it will be enough to retool the team in free agency either next year or in the future.

Ngakoue just wanted out from the Jaguars so I think he would be okay with this trade. Is it the most ideal landing spot? Probably not. While playing alongside Danielle Hunter may open up a lot of opportunities, Hunter has had 14.5 sacks in each of the last two years and is going to be looked at as the star if he is healthy. Ngakoue ideally would have been in a better spot on a team where he would stand out alone, so he will need a monster season here to do that.

Ngakoue will look for a deal next season that pays over $20 million a year. That puts Minnesota in a difficult spot for an extension since they had signed Hunter to one of the most team friendly contracts in the NFL at just $14.4 million a year. Hunter still has four years to go on that deal but one would think if they find a way to make a long term deal with Ngakoue then they will need to give their homegrown player a massive raise even though there will be three years left. The Vikings historically will rework deals with two years remaining.

Next year will certainly be some offseason for the Vikings. Ngakoue and Harris are both coming off franchise tenders. Only one can get tagged again. Dalvin Cook is a free agent and would have been a franchise tag candidate as well. Now there are two in front of him. The team also will have decisions to make on a number of veteran players as they figure out how to navigate their salary cap and the Covid impact on that cap number.

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