Indulge me if you will in a little exercise. Would love to get your opinion on something.

Let’s try a variation of the old Coke/Pepsi Challenge from the commercials (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, just YouTube it). Consider this a blind taste test of sorts. Which of these edge defenders would you prefer:

Player A: Is 25 years old, has missed one game in four seasons, with 2 interceptions, 14 forced fumbles, 2 touchdowns scored and averages .60 sacks per game and .67 tackles for loss per game.

Player B: Is 27 years old, has missed 21 games in five seasons, with 1 interception, 8 forced fumbles, 4 touchdowns scored, .43 sacks per game and .9 tackles for loss per game. 

Most indicators would have you leaning strongly in one direction, I presume. There is always a premium on pass rush; and younger and healthier pass rush. What if Player A still had a year left on his deal (on a franchise tag) and wanted out of a bad team that many other players have also sought their escape from? While Player B was looking for his third team in two years after having his own bitter feud with the club that originally drafted him?

Okay, mind made up on which you would prefer? Well wait, there’s more. What if I told you you could have either one for the exact same price, basically — okay, Player A will make $13M and Player B makes $13M in base salary and bonuses and could make another $2M in incentives that are less than a slam dunk. 

So, who you got?

Player A, of course, right? I mean it’s not even close, correct?

Oh, and forgot to tell you that Player A left about $5M on the table just to get the heck out playing in Jacksonville on that tag. And left a state with no state income tax for one that has a 9.85 percent rate for those earning above $200,000. Whoops, okay the cat is probably out of the bag by now as to who we’re talking about here. Player A is Yannick Ngakoue, who was recently dealt from the Jaguars to the Vikings, and Player B is Jadeveon Clowney, who recently signed with the Titans as a free agent after months of dangling on the open market, unable to get close to his original asking price of around $20M a year.

Pretty amazing how this all gets resolved, eh? Except there is one other thing to consider, too. Clowney got a clause included in his contract that precludes him from being tagged in 2021, sources said (the Texans had tagged him back in 2019 as a precursor to a trade to Seattle), while Ngakoue’s deal includes no such provisions. 

Yeah, safe to say the Vikings made out pretty damn well in this situation. And even better so if, for instance, they are able to tag him next year and argue that the 20 percent raise he is due should come off his actual salary of $13M and not the original tag designation of $17.8M. I get him wanting to get out of Jacksonville at some cost … but this cost seems extreme, especially when compared to Clowney’s situation.

The Vikings get to rent the superior pass rusher, who is younger and more durable, with the option to keep him off the market in 2021, all for what will likely be a late second-round pick? Sign me up for all of that. Forgive me if I find this a bit staggering, and a precedent I would have to think some at the NFLPA aren’t thrilled with. 

That is a lot of money and leverage to surrender just to get to a potential contending team. Also factor in how late it all went down in a bizarre training camp, with such limited work time and no preseason games in which to work out the kinks and adjust to new teammates and schemes and surroundings, and there is definitely some risk involved. This isn’t like landing there for the first day of virtual OTAs or whatever.

Seems like a lot to gamble, to me, in what is a clear contract year under less than ideal circumstances. At an emotional level, I can understand Ngakoue wanting to make a stand to facilitate an exodus from a place where you do not want to be and where you don’t think you will win and where you think you have been mistreated or misunderstood or manipulated or taken for granted. But as a business decision, in a profession as dangerous as this and with true, real, money so rarely fully guaranteed (ask Earl Thomas), it seems like a less than optimal outcome.

And when coupled with the fact it turns out to be the same basic financial compensation as what a lesser player (at least from a pure pass rush standpoint) who anyone could have signed for the last five months without having to part with any draft pick compensation ended up receiving, it definitely left me shaking my head a bit. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

I hope it works out for him in Minnesota. It’s most definitely a better defense and better team, and Ngakoue will have no shortage of motivation. But he also taken quite a gamble, one that looks even riskier to me right now.


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