Ngakoue Trade Makes Vikings Contenders, But Don't Buy Super Bowl Odds Yet

Cameron Smith

On Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings made a significant move to shore up their defensive front by adding former Jaguars All-Pro defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. There's no question he makes the Vikings a better team, but is he enough to make them the best team in the NFL?

The answer is simple: No.

Again, Ngakoue is a key upgrade for a defense that is already significant. Minnesota finished the 2019 season in the top-10 in Defensive Passer Rating, Defensive Real Quarterback Rating and Defensive Rusher Rating (where they were top-three). The one outlying statistic was Defensive Hog Index, where the Vikings were tied for 13th with division rival Chicago.

Enter Ngakoue, who racked up 17.5 sacks across the past two seasons, not to mention 41 tackles in 2019. He represents an instant upgrade on Ifeadi Odenigbo, who had seven sacks in 2019, in what was his first meaningful NFL action. Perhaps that lack of a track record inspired the Vikings to make the move they did now, essentially pushing all in on the 2020 season, boom or bust.

There's a lot to like about the approach, particularly with rumors that Ngakoue is agreeing to a one-year pay cut to facilitate the move this season. If nothing else, it should make the Vikings clear-cut favorites in the NFC North, where the Packers could be entering a significant defensive overhaul after the loss of their linebacking corps and (even more) perceived offensive instability thanks to the first round selection of quarterback Jordan Love. Yes, the Bears are interesting, particularly if they pull the trigger to go with former Super Bowl winner Nick Foles under center, but few would consider them a divisional favorite or, perhaps, even a likely playoff squad.

That, in turn, is the trick with the Vikings. There was no question that they were already a playoff-caliber roster. Does adding Ngakoue make them a Super Bowl team? History says no. While the old adage that "Defensive wins Championships" remains popular for metaphorical football greeting cards, it doesn't wash in the playoffs. Of the recent Super Bowl champions, only the 2018 Patriots entered each game they played as a super defense in a majority of the defensive quality stats than their opponent. It's been particularly true that teams that have made trades for major defensive impact players have failed to make it to the finish line. That includes the Bears (Khalil Mack), Seahawks (Jadeveon Clowney), Panthers (Jared Allen) and others. Ngakoue probably belongs somewhere between Clowney and Mack in terms of impact, but the 2020 Vikings would have to overcome the 49ers, Saints, Buccaneers, Cowboys and Eagles, all of which are listed with better Super Bowl odds per FanDuel, which lists the Vikings at +2500 even after Ngakoue's addition.

With those odds, a punt on Minnesota making it all the way may be tempting, but it's still a long shot. And without seeing any game action, a bet like that is still a bridge too far.