For second straight year, Baltimore Ravens make big midseason deal to upgrade defense

The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
Minnesota Vikings defensive end Yannick Ngakoue is pictured during the second half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 27-26. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

BALTIMORE – For the second straight year, the Baltimore Ravens have struck a midseason deal to upgrade their defense.

The Ravens have agreed to terms on a trade for Minnesota Vikings defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, the team announced Thursday. Entering this season, the former Maryland standout ranked 12th in sacks, eighth in quarterback hits and fourth in forced fumbles over the past four years.

According to ESPN, the Ravens are sending Minnesota a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional fifth-round pick. The Vikings originally acquired Ngakoue, named to the Pro Bowl in 2017, before this season from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a 2021 second-round pick and 2022 conditional fifth-round pick.

“We are excited to add Yannick Ngakoue to our football team,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement. “Yannick is someone who we are very familiar with going back to the draft process years ago. He is an exciting player and a dangerous pass rusher who makes us better. Yannick grew up here. He’s the type of person we welcome in our building. Finally, we are not finished building this team, as we continue to chase our ultimate goals.”

Ngakoue, a native of Bowie, was traded to Minnesota after a tumultuous end to his time in Jacksonville, where he was drafted No. 69 overall in 2016 and spent his first four seasons.

Impressive sack numbers: Ngakoue, 25, has five sacks in six games this season, which would rank first on the Ravens. Defensive end Calais Campbell, who starred with Ngakoue in Jacksonville, has four. For his career, Ngakoue has 42 1/2 sacks in 69 career games.

While Ngakoue has established himself as a premier pass rusher in the league, his 2020 season has been a mixed bag. His 11% pass rush win rate as an edge player ranks 32nd out of 47 qualifiers, according to ESPN. Pro Football Focus has graded Ngakoue as a below-average run defender but in the Ravens’ system, he could be used in a rotation for more pass-rush situations.

With the Ravens (5-1) in the middle of their bye week, Ngakoue is expected to join the team well in advance of its Week 8 game against the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers (5-0) at M&T Bank Stadium on Nov. 1.

Yannick Ngakoue

“I know he wants to win,” Campbell told the team website Thursday. “He loves the game of football. This is a place where he’s going to flourish. This culture, it’s going to help bring the best out of him and his game. He’s just scratching the surface of how good he can be. I mean, he’s maturing, getting older. And this team is going to really benefit from him being here.”

Helping an already-strong defense: The Ravens defense is the NFL’s stingiest unit, allowing only 17.3 points per game, and under defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, it’s become one of the most blitz-happy units in recent years. This season, the defense has blitzed on 46.1% of opposing drop-backs, according to Pro-Football-Reference, second only to the Steelers’ 46.3%.

Ngakoue’s arrival could allow Martindale to rely on four-man pressure packages more often – something the team struggled to do in its sole loss this season, to the Kansas City Chiefs – or double down on his defensive philosophy.

After a slow start, the Ravens have recorded 13 sacks in their past two wins over the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles. They now have 22 this season, tied for second most. Their 29.2% pressure rate ranks third in the league, behind only the Steelers and Chiefs.

Ngakoue, who signed a one-year, $12 million deal upon his trade to Minnesota, is expected to start opposite outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who led the team last year with 9 1/2 sacks and is playing this season on the franchise tag.

Ngakoue will count $5.2 million against the Ravens’ salary cap, meaning the team will likely have to restructure some contracts to get under the cap. He’ll also be a free agent after this season, set to hit the open market with fellow Ravens pass rushers Pernell McPhee, Tyus Bowser, Jihad Ward and Judon. Only second-year outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson is under contract through at least the 2021 season.

The Ravens’ trade Thursday comes a year after the Ravens acquired All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters from the Los Angeles Rams two weeks before the trade deadline, forming one of the NFL’s top tandems with Marlon Humphrey. DeCosta also traded a fifth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars in March for Campbell.