Jacksonville will want something hefty in return for Yannick Ngakoue, but the reward greatly outweighs the risk for the New York Jets.
With football attempting to creep back into our lives, one could get some clicks compiling a list of locker room availability cliches we’ll potentially miss as social distancing carries on into 2020’s latter stages.
The NHL’s Canadian enclosures brought about the return of “pucks deep“, for example. The NFL is making its return in more confined settings, but you’re still hearing the training camp defaults like “he’s in the best shape of his life” or “everyone has to earn their spot on the depth chart”. Once we get to the season, preparation will undoubtedly be marked by declarations of “making the quarterback uncomfortable” on the road to victory.
That cliche, however, is like the jump scare in horror movies: if you pull it off right, it will pay off big dividends.
The truism’s magnum opus is perhaps Super Bowl XLII, as the New York Giants’ relentless pressure on Tom Brady put the undefeated New England Patriots into straight-up panic mode. It takes a lot to throw Aaron Rodgers off his game, but his Green Bay Packers are 5-18 when he’s sacked at least five times.
Its effectiveness could perhaps be a lesson for the New York Jets. The days of the “New York Sack Exchange” being mere MetLife Stadium tailgate memories, the Jets have had major problems invading opposing backfields. Since 2016, the Jets have earned 129 sacks, bettering only three other teams in the rest of the NFL. AFC overlords new (Kansas City) and old (New England) are in the middle of the pack at 14th and 15th. The perennial contenders from Pittsburgh top the list with 200. They haven’t had a losing record since 2003, and the 696 sacks they’ve tallied during that streak might have something to with it.
The Jets’ defense is going into a year of uncertainty brought upon transition. Jamal Adams, the face of the franchise, forced his way to the Pacific Northwest and C.J. Mosley chose (understandably) to opt-out of the 2020 proceedings. Making the playoffs is going to be a tall task, even with the expanded capital, but this is going to be a year where plenty of free agents-to-be and one-year additions and re-ups that will get to audition for the good times ahead.
All that’s missing is Yannick Ngakoue. The disgruntled defender is currently at odds with the Jacksonville Jaguars and has been on his own quest for a transfer. He is 12th in the NFL in sacks (37.5) over the last four seasons and has been regarded for his backfield pressure. Depending on who you ask, the Jets may be closing on a deal to paint the 2017 Pro Bowler’s equipment green and bring him aboard for 2020.
Ordinarily, adding Ngakoue’s name, talent, and salary (the 2021 free agent is set to make over $17 million next season) is the type of move a team makes when they’re the proverbial “one move away” from a Super Bowl, and the Jets are much more than one move away from a return trip over five decades in the making. But his New York arrival would be beneficial on all sides.
A New Face
The Jaguars’ shocking, most recent run to the AFC Championship Game feels like an eternity ago, but we’re somehow only two years removed from that endeavor that nearly (and, according to some, should’ve) ended in the Super Bowl. Even if that game’s officiating can be questioned, it’s still one of the more puzzling mysteries in recent NFL history that a defense that featured the services Ngakoue, Calais Campbell, Marcell Dareus, Malik Jackson, Myles Jack, Telvin Smith, and Jalen Ramsey, among others, never went back to the postseason. Most of that group has bolted from Jacksonville, with Jack and Ngakoue being the lone leftovers.
A turn to the Jets could give Ngakoue a chance to truly flash his potential, a chance to be the defensive face of one of the NFL’s most important markets. The Jets are a team that is in desperate need of a big-name defender with Mosley out for 2020 and Adams napalming any bridges he had left with the organization. There are plenty of young names that can potentially move forward…it’s a big year for Marcus Maye and Quinnen Williams for example…but this could be a great opportunity for both Ngakoue and the Jets to hit the reset button on their respective timelines. Ngakoue, as someone who’s had his fair share of proven success on the NFL level, can have control and leadership of a defense, while the Jets can work out with a potential new defensive face. Plenty of New Yorkers are in make or break situations, but, as a team, the Jets are in a relatively consequence-free year. This opens things up to spend a good portion of the remaining summer budget on a Ngakoue audition.
As mentioned above, we can laugh all we want about teams preaching about the importance of making a quarterback uncomfortable, but the fact remains that it works. Silencing the antics of a mobile threat makes it all the more crucial. The Jets might have to face three in their division alone.
Recent NFL Top 100 Players nominee Josh Allen is part of the reason why many have the Buffalo Bills pegged as the team best in position to usurp the Patriots’ seemingly eternal hold on the AFC East throne. New England is attempting to counter by bringing in former MVP Cam Newton, while the Miami Dolphins enter a new era with Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. Both have well regarded for their ability to change the game with not only their arms but their legs as well.
Thus, a strong pass rush is more important than ever. Allen, for example, has earned a 5-2 record when he tallies at least 50 rushing yards, but those numbers drop to 6-8 when he’s held under 30 or less. Save for the combined 14.5 sacks Adams and team leader Jordan Jenkins tallied, no Jets defender had more than three quarterback takedowns. It’s time to change that, and Ngakoue can be a great way to change that narrative.
Open the Vault
Training camp is open, but the Jets’ roster is anything but complete. Pass rush is one of several areas the team can improve on as Week 1 looms. The team is experimenting with help in the receiver room, as Field Yates reported that they welcomed in former top ten pick Kevin White for a workout.
According to the Over the Cap, the Jets have just over $30 million in cap space to spend. It’s not under the greatest circumstances (Mosley’s opt-out contributed $10 million to that tally), but that’s a decent amount to have at your disposal at this point in the offseason. Hence, the Jets have a rare opportunity to splurge if/when a trade presents itself through some excess space and, perhaps more importantly draft capital.
Jacksonville is reportedly seeking at least a second-round pick in potential Ngakoue negotiations. General manager Joe Douglas somehow collaborated Seattle in an “everybody wins”-type deal, getting back two first-round picks for a player that did everything short of tie the Jets’ Lombardi Trophy from Super Bowl III to the back of his car and drag it around the parking lot at One Jets Drive. Parting with them is likely out of the question…especially if Ngakoue’s potential for being merely a 2020 rental…but with armed with two first-rounders in each of the next two years, the Jets certainly have some flexibility with their seconds.
The Jets are, again, equipped with little to lose as a team unit next season, so they’d be wise to take advantage. Trading for Ngakoue would be a great start to taking advantage of that role.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags