Top Potential Landing Spots for Yannick Ngakoue
Jacksonville Jaguars star edge defender Yannick Ngakoue isn't on the verge of a change of heart.
"Everything happens for a reason, and not everything lasts forever," the 25-year-old said last week on ESPN. "Things come to an end, and it's time for me to move on to the next chapter of my career. And I'm forever thankful for what Jacksonville has brought to me and my family, but it's time to move on."
NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported in late March that "multiple teams" are interested in Ngakoue, who was franchise-tagged earlier this offseason. But according to ESPN's Jordan Raanan, the Jags "are beginning discussions for Ngakoue at a first-round pick and more."
Ngakoue has recorded at least eight sacks in his first four seasons, and his 14 forced fumbles in 63 career games are the fourth-highest total in the league during that span. He might figure he's earned the right to be picky.
"I really want to be part of a team that has great culture and winning is a habit," he said. "I don't want to be part of a team that losing is a norm or anything of that nature. I want to be part of something special."
The 2016 third-round pick might not have full control in that regard, but nobody wants to pay a high price to add a player under the franchise tag if he doesn't want to be there.
Whoever acquires Ngakoue has to be at least on track to becoming a contender. They must have money to spend on the tag and/or a long-term contract, and they should have some draft capital for trade purposes. They also probably can't play in the AFC South, as you'd imagine an intradivisional deal would be unlikely (sorry, Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans fans).
The Favorite: Cleveland Browns
Yes, the Cleveland Browns have a rising star in Myles Garrett on the edge, but a talented team that is surely desperate to finally bust out of a long playoff drought could use a stronger presence opposite him up front.
Aside from Garrett, no Browns edge defender hit the five-sack plateau in 2019. Second-year third-round pick Chad Thomas disappeared down the stretch without a suspended Garrett after a few promising midseason performances, and the oft-injured, expensive Olivier Vernon is entering his age-30 campaign after recording just 3.5 sacks in 2019.
That would almost cover Ngakoue's $17.8 million franchise tender for 2020, although that wouldn't be much of a problem anyway for a team that currently leads the league with over $40 million in salary-cap space.
The Browns probably shouldn't be willing to give up their 10th overall pick for Ngakoue while accomplished pass-rushers Jadeveon Clowney, Everson Griffen and Markus Golden sit on the open market, but they also have the No. 41 overall selection and could gain more capital in the event of a trade down the first-round draft board.
It's too easy to connect these dots.
The Potential Bully: Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins might not be Super Bowl contenders, but they have more ammunition to trade for and pay Ngakoue than any other team. They're also trending in the right direction after winning five of their last nine games despite a severe lack of talent in 2019.
The Dolphins have since splurged on free agents and should be much improved in 2020, they have more cap space than everyone except Cleveland, and they own six of the draft's top 70 selections.
That should make it easy to satisfy both the Jaguars and Ngakoue, who could stay in Florida (where there is no state income tax) and team up with new Dolphins defensive end Shaq Lawson as well as talented young edge defenders Taco Charlton, Charles Harris and Vince Biegel.
Throw in veteran Kyle Van Noy and an argument could be made that the Dolphins' pass-rushing crowd is too large to add Ngakoue, but the Maryland product has accomplished more than all of the above.
If the Dolphins can convince him they're ready to compete in 2020, this is a no-brainer.
Can Never Be Counted Out: Philadelphia Eagles
If a good defensive lineman is out there, Jim Schwartz wants him.
The venerable Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator can't have enough talented players up front, and you get the feeling he's damn good at lobbying general manager Howie Roseman and/or head coach Doug Pederson.
Four of the nine highest-paid players on the Eagles roster are defensive linemen, but only one of those four (Brandon Graham) is a pure edge-rusher. Veteran Vinny Curry is still a free agent and will soon turn 32, while 2017 first-round pick Derek Barnett has yet to fully emerge. Besides, Schwartz likes to utilize a deep and active rotation, which is why there's plenty of room for Ngakoue, even with Graham, Barnett, Curry and 2018 fourth-rounder Josh Sweat on board.
All four of those guys saw substantial snaps in 2019.
The Eagles can also make a better argument than the rest of the teams on this list that they have a winning culture, since they're two years removed from a Super Bowl victory. Schwartz himself is likely appealing to potential acquisitions, and only three teams have more cap space than Philly right now.
They just lack draft ammo in comparison to the Browns and Dolphins.
The Wild Card: New York Jets
Last month, Pro Football Network's Ben Allbright suggested the New York Jets—along with the Eagles, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks—were interested in Ngakoue. We already mentioned Philly, the Packers are in good shape on the edge and have less than $11 million in cap space, and the Seahawks appear to believe Clowney is too expensive, so it's doubtful they'd trade for and pay Ngakoue.
But the Jets make a lot of sense.
They at least have over $17 million in cap space, they have a top-12 pick along with two third-rounders, and only nine teams recorded fewer sacks last season. Jordan Jenkins was their only edge defender to post more than three sacks, and a Jets defender hasn't hit double digits in that category since 2015.
Gang Green hasn't exactly been winning lately, but there's plenty of talent on both sides of the ball because they haven't shied away from blockbuster deals in recent offseasons. It wouldn't be surprising if they made another one for Ngakoue.
A Dark Horse: Buffalo Bills
After their first double-digit-win season of the 21st century and a blockbuster trade for star wide receiver Stefon Diggs, it's apparent the Buffalo Bills are in it to win it.
And while they lack draft ammunition as a result of the Diggs trade, a team that is getting bold in an effort to compete for years to come might also be willing to swing the bat for a young edge defender like Ngakoue.
They have talent at that position, but with Shaq Lawson gone, each of their top three edge-rushers—Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy and Mario Addison—will be 30 or older by the end of the 2020 season, and none have ceilings as high as Ngakoue's.
Because the Bills have just one pick in the top 85, they might be better off waiting for somebody else to trade for Ngakoue before taking advantage of a smaller, post-draft market for a lingering free-agent pass-rusher like Clowney, Griffen or Golden, but all of those guys are a lot older than Ngakoue.
At the very least, the Bills could use a young edge like Ngakoue. And they're certainly beginning to look like a perennial contender, which could make Buffalo an attractive destination for the 25-year-old.
Long Shot but Can't Be Ruled Out: New York Giants
The New York Giants ranked in the bottom 10 in sack rate last season, and the only player on their roster who recorded five or more sacks remains unsigned. That's Markus Golden, and a source told Raanan that Golden is "[asking for] too much money."
Ngakoue will undoubtedly be asking for even more, and his $17.8 million under the franchise tag might not be tenable. But he's a far superior player with a lot more upside.
Would they spring for Ngakoue even after paying big bucks to free-agent defenders James Bradberry and Blake Martinez last month? It's unlikely but can't be ruled out considering their clear desire to improve defensively in 2020, as well as a glaring lack of talent on the edge.
The Giants will likely want to at least wait to see if they wind up with an elite pass-rushing prospect in the draft, especially considering that Clowney, Golden and Griffen remain available without having to surrender anything in a trade.
They have less than $16 million in salary-cap space, according to Spotrac, and they won't be willing to part with the No. 4 overall pick in a trade for Ngakoue.