Yannick Ngakoue made it very clear over the course of the offseason he wanted out of Jacksonville. He found his freedom via trade last week.
Now, he’s just happy to be done with the pleas for a trade and back to playing football.
“It’s a fresh start,” Ngakoue said during his introductory press conference Friday. “A breath of fresh air.”
Ngakoue so badly wanted that fresh start, he was willing to forgo nearly $6 million of his $17.8 million franchise tag salary he would have made had he signed the tender in Jacksonville. He instead agreed to a one-year, $12 million deal with the Vikings upon completion of the trade that sent him north.
Ngakoue said Friday he doesn’t play football for the money, but to be “a great caliber” of player, and he feels he’s finding the right environment to be just that in Minnesota.
Minneapolis shouldn’t feel all that different from Jacksonville. Sure, the temperatures will be harsh come December in his new home, but they built a dome for that. And on the field, Ngakoue will again find himself lining up opposite one of the league’s best edge defenders.
“We just met,” Ngakoue said of he and Danielle Hunter. “I’m pretty sure we’ve known of each other because we’re top EDGE guys in this league. That’s what we’re trying to be. We want to become the best of the best. We want to be elite.
“When you talk about EDGE rushers, you want them to talk about Danielle and Yannick. I’m just glad that we’re on the same team and we can push each other each and every day. I’m pretty sure our friendship will build as time goes on.”
Ngakoue goes from playing alongside Calais Campbell to lining up on the same front as Hunter, bringing the type of punch to the Vikings’ pass-rushing unit that once earned Ngakoue’s old team the “Sacksonville” moniker. If history serves as any indicator of future production, Ngakoue is in line to continue playing at a very high level alongside a player he said he expects to push him to improve.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ngakoue has become a steady force, logging consecutive defensive grades of 72 or better in each of the last three seasons. He posted his second-best pass-rushing grade last season, too, even as Jacksonville was trudging through a tumultuous, nightmarish season both on and off the field.
With the drama and discontent left behind in Florida, Ngakoue is poised to take the next step toward his goal of becoming indisputably elite. The process will involve again becoming familiar with putting his hand on the ground, something he said Friday he hasn’t done “in two years” but won’t be “too difficult to get used to.”
As for their long-term future, Ngakoue wasn’t noncommittal, but also isn’t concerned with his contract right now. After an offseason filled with nothing but contract issues, he’s turning back to the field and letting the rest handle itself.
“Well, I haven’t really thought about a long-term deal or anything like that,” Nagkoue said. “The only thing that’s been on my mind is getting acclimated and adjusted to this new playbook. It’s a different scheme than what I had in Jacksonville and also just getting all those things locked in my mind so I can be ready for Week 1 and help this team as much as I can.”
Ngakoue will make his debut in Vikings purple and gold in nine days.
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