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Finding Free Agents: Yannick Ngakoue would be a perfect pass rush partner for Jadeveon Clowney

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Seattle Seahawks v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Logan Bowles/Getty Images

In our 2020 iteration of Finding Free Agents, we’ll attempt to answer three questions for each player: Why would the Seahawks be interested? What would their contract look like? What is the likelihood they reach free agency? Throughout the series, we’ll be focused on specific positions of need in Seattle: Wide receiver, tight end, offensive line and EDGE.

What a strange four seasons it has been for Yannick Ngakoue with the Jaguars. Drafted a year after 2015 third-overall selection Dante Fowler Jr., the two pass rushers made their debuts together as Fowler lost his rookie season due to injury. It was immediately apparent that it was Ngakoue, not Fowler, who was the truly elite talent. Over their 39 games together, Ngakoue totaled 24 sacks (and led the league in forced fumbles in 2017) while Fowler posted 14. Their rivalry reached a boiling point in Jacksonville’s 2018 training camp, as they had to be separated by teammates. The separation would be permanent just a couple months later, with Fowler’s trade to the Rams.

Now, the Jaguars may find themselves without either of the productive edge rushers that came in together.

Why would the Seahawks be interested?

Seattle desperately needs pass rushers and Ngakoue is the best pure sack artist set to hit the market this spring. His rookie contract production is tremendous: 37.5 sacks, 14 forced fumbles, 42 tackles for loss and 85 QB hits, while playing all but one game. Ngakoue hit double-digit sacks just once, but his underlying numbers are complimentary. His career pressure rate of 11.3 percent is a better four-year figure than Chandler Jones and Frank Clark, among others. Whether the Seahawks retain Jadeveon Clowney or not, Ngakoue would be an incredibly impactful addition as the team’s LEO.

If Seattle does retain Clowney, however, he and Ngakoue would form a dynamic, complete pass rush duo. Clowney rushes narrow, overwhelms with power and has a outstandingly effective inside swim move. Ngakoue has a lightning quick first step, can turn the corner on any tackle and has consistently finished at the quarterback. Regardless of the depth behind them, Clowney reduced inside to tackle next to Ngakoue in pass rush packages would have the ability to overwhelm opposing lines as a forceful duo.

What would Ngakoue’s contract look like?

Make no mistake: Ngakoue is going to get paid. He is a productive, every down edge rusher and just finished his age-24 season. Despite his tantalizing physical tools and established production, he’s unlikely to break $20M APY as both Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark did last year. Those two are high-level run defenders in addition to being productive pass rushers, while Ngakoue has only ever bordered on good enough against the run.

Luckily for Ngakoue, the facet he excels in is the one that gets EDGEs rewarded handsomely. Behind Clark and Lawrence in APY is Trey Flowers ($18M), Cameron Jordan ($17.5M) and Dee Ford ($17M), all of whom either signed new deals or extensions last offseason. Jordan is superior to both of those players and Ngakoue, while the Jags’ pass rusher compares in past production and skill set to Ford. Should he hit the open market, he would certainly match or (more likely) surpass Ford’s $17M average per year. (After sitting out minicamp and training camp last season, Ngakoue reportedly turned down a short-term extension worth $19M per year.)

The Seahawks can afford to sign Ngakoue this spring and even pair him with Clowney. It would be a massive investment, but it’s absolutely doable. It likely becomes more probable that Ngakoue is targeted if Clowney is not retained, but to maximize both, a pairing would be the avenue to explore.

Will Ngakoue reach free agency?

It is surprising, with the player being a young and productive pass rusher, that this is a difficult question to answer. Logic would suggest Jacksonville would use the tag to hold his rights at the very least, but the Jaguars don’t always deal in logic. Jacksonville is in a poor salary cap spot at the moment—nearly $3.5M over—but they’ll clear $20M by cutting Marcell Dareus and can free up another $25.05M by moving on from Calais Campbell, Jake Ryan and Geoff Swaim. The flexibility is there for the Jaguars, should they want to stay in business with Ngakoue, but there’s yet to be any indication that’s the case.

If Jacksonville is wise, they’ll tag Ngakoue and continue to work towards a long-term deal with an uber-talented pass rusher. If they allow him to hit the open market, Seattle would do well to aggressively pursue him.