Philadelphia Eagles: A Yannick Ngakoue trade is just too expensive

(Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

Despite being a great fit in Jim Schwartz’s defense, a Yannick Ngakoue trade would just cost too much for the Philadelphia Eagles.

After a relatively quiet start to free agency, the Philadelphia Eagles made a massive splash on the second official day of the NFL league year by trading a 2020 third-round pick and a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Detroit Lions for Darius Slay.

This was a good trade. Acquiring a top-tier cornerback coming off his third straight Pro Bowl campaign for a pair of mid-round picks is never a bad move, even if the team had to ‘pay twice’ to the tune of a three-year, $50 million contract extension for the man affectionately known as ‘Big Play Slay’.

Carson Wentz is a fan of the deal, and the rest of the Eagles’ moves so far this offseason; who can argue with the Birds’ franchise guy?

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For those keeping track at home, the Eagles have signed two new defensive starters in the free agency period thus far, Slay, and ex-Pittsburg Steelers interior rusher Javon Hargrave for roughly $18.5 million of their available $36 million of 2020 cap space. While the team could conceivably add a few more players, or one big contract, and retain the $5-7 million they need to pay for their draft class, those signings will probably be on the margins for third-tier guys after re-signing Rodney McLeod and Jalen Mills.

Or maybe, just maybe, Howie Roseman wants to get a little weird with it.

You see, after being linked to pretty much every viable trade target so far this offseason, from DeAndre Hopkins, to Stefon Diggs in one way or another, the Eagles are reportedly monitoring the status of Jacksonville Jaguars edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue. Normally, fans can take these sort of rumors with a massive grain of salt, as the number of discussed trades that actually go through has to be a minuscule fraction, but in a weird twist of fate, an involved party actually weighed in on the matter and added considerable fuel to the fire.

‘Trapped’ – if you can call it that – in Jacksonville on a $17.78 million franchise tag for the 2020 season, Ngakoue clearly wants to move on to a new team on a long-term deal, and according to his Instagram story, Philadelphia is his preferred destination.

Because of the nature of Instagram stories, I can’t exactly share them with you for more than a few hours, but fear not, Bradley Gelbert of The Bills Wire saved them here for posterity – it’s a picture of an Eagle emoji, a picture of vintage Reggie White, and (not pictured) a little of Philly’s own Lil Uzi Vert for good measure.

Does Ngakoue know something we don’t? Or is this some sort of a ‘Visiongram’ where he’s putting his intentions out into the universe? Either way, the idea of adding a soon-to-be 25-year-old edge rusher who has averaged a little over nine sacks a season since entering the league as a third-round pick out of Maryland in 2016 has Eagles Twitter over the gosh darn moon.

And to be fair, why wouldn’t it (they?) be?

Ngakoue is a solid edge rusher with a ton of experience being deployed out wide in a wide-9 scheme. As Taylor Lewan pointed out in Ngakoue’s 2018 NFL Top-100 profile (here), his straight-line speed coming off the edge is elite, and he has the moves to get things done against even the savviest tackle.

Over the last two seasons, Ngakoue has recorded 31 hurries, 29 QB hits, 78 pressures, and 17.5 sacks. He’s also a solid tackler coming off the edge, having taken his man to the ground 69 times versus only 17 missed tackles.

With plenty of room to grow and a big enough bag of tricks to enter 2020 as a surefire contributor, Ngakoue is the kind of player teams should want to invest in long-term.

But here’s the thing: Ngakoue is going to cost a ton to acquire.

If recent trades for Frank Clark, DeForest Buckner, and to a lesser extent Jadeveon Clowney are of any indication, the Jaguars will probably ask for a first-round pick at minimum for Ngakoue’s services. That’s an understandable ask for a player of Ngakoue’s caliber, as he’s been far more productive than the Eagles’ 2017 first-round pick, Derek Barnett, but should the Eagles commit that sort of capital to yet another defensive end?

I’d venture to say no.

First and foremost, the Eagles would need to take on Ngakoue’s contract, which is more than the team has in available cap space after their five free agency signings. While it’s not hard to make extra cap space in the NFL – there’s a certain wide receiver that fans would move on from for an order of Chickies and Pete’s crab fries – freeing up enough to pay for an eight-person draft class become of a tougher ask with a $17.78 million franchise tag on the books.

I guess Ngakoue could agree to a restructured deal and avoid that initial cap hit, but that complicates a potential trade even further.

Speaking of contracts, trading for Ngakoue also guarantees a new deal for the fourth-year edge rusher, which Over The Cap evaluates at roughly $18 million a year. Can the Eagles really sign Ngakoue to a multi-year deal worth $72 million when they already have Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Brandon Graham, and Hargrave on the books for over $10 million a year?

They could, but that’s an awful lot of capital to commit to a single position group in a salary cap league.

Trading a first-round pick for Ngakoue also has an opportunity cost for the Eagles in that they lose out on five years of a young prospect on a cost-controlled contract. For (probably) less than the price of Ngakoue’s franchise tag, the Eagles find their next great wide receiver, with players like Justin Jefferson, Laviska Shenault, and Denzel Mims all potentially available at the 21st selection. In the modern NFL, where scoring points is at a premium, adding a starting-caliber wide receiver who can optimize Wentz’s play is worth more than a starting-caliber edge rusher.

According to Pro Football Focus, that’s exactly what Ngakoue is, a solid, starting-caliber edge rusher.

Despite having a massive 2017 season, a season good enough to earn him a Pro Bowl appearance, Ngakoue wasn’t nearly as effective in either 2018 or 2019 as a pressure generator, recording PFF pass-rushing grades in the mid-70s in both seasons. PFF also notes that Ngakoue is not a particularly engaged stuffer of the run, as evidence by his sub-60 career run defense grade. For a part-time player exclusively used on passing downs, this may not be as big of an issue, but if the Eagles opt to pay Ngakoue Iike a star, one would have to assume he’s going to be on the field regardless of down and distance. No, in the eyes of PFF, Ngakoue is a decent edge rusher in the NFL, but far from an All-Pro in the making.

Now to be fair, PFF is typically biased to value coverage players over pass rushers, but when they tab Ngakoue a borderline player to avoid in free agency, I tend to agree.

Next. Darius Slay is the playmaking corner Philly craves. dark

Ultimately, Yannick Ngakoue is the kind of player the Philadelphia Eagles would love to have under contract moving forward. He’s young, uber-talented, and has the potential to get even better. However, when you consider his addition could potentially cost the team a cheaper long-term player at a higher-valued position, a massive contract extension, and a massive salary cap hit in 2020, trading for Ngakoue may just be too rich for Howie Roseman’s blood.