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Zulgad: Splash move to acquire standout pass rusher is actually business as usual for Vikings

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Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, right, runs with the ball away from Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (91) during the second half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

As most of us slept Saturday into Sunday, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman worked to finalize a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars for defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. News of the deal early Sunday came as a surprise to many.

It shouldn’t have.

The trade that will put a standout 25-year-old pass-rushing defensive end in purple is just the latest splash move since Zygi and Mark Wilf bought the Vikings 15 years ago. Most have been done by Spielman and savvy salary-cap man Rob Brzezinski. Steve Hutchinson, Jared Allen, Brett Favre, Kirk Cousins, the trade to reacquire Randy Moss. Not all of these moves have worked — and some, such as trading for Donovan McNabb, failed miserably — but the Wilfs’ willingness to spend or sign off on a major trade seemed to be the norm around Winter Park and that continues to be the case at TCO Performance Center.

The Ngakoue trade follows the pattern of the Vikings’ willingness to go for it when the opportunity presents itself. Throughout much of this pandemic-altered offseason, it was fair to wonder exactly the Vikings’ direction was going to be for the season. Defensive end Everson Griffen, a longtime Viking, sat on the free agent market for much of the summer before finally signing with Dallas. The Vikings lost all three of their starting cornerbacks from 2019 and the nose tackle position took a hit when Michael Pierce, a free agent signed in March, opted-out because of concerns about COVID-19.

This created numerous questions about coach Mike Zimmer’s defense, which everyone knows is his pride and joy. Some of those questions still exist but the acquisition of Ngakoue — which comes two weeks before the season-opener against Green Bay — not only immediately improves the defense, and gives the Vikings a younger and better replacement for Griffen, but it also provides a long-term solution at the right defensive end spot, where finding quality pass rushers to pressure the blindside of most quarterbacks isn’t easy. The Vikings plan has been to leave standout pass rusher Danielle Hunter at left end — this is assuming Hunter is going to be fine after missing the past 12 training camp practices — and now they can pair him with Ngakoue on the right side.

This could cause nightmares for opposing offensive tackles. Hunter is coming off back-to-back seasons in which he had 14.5 sacks in each and Ngakoue had eight sacks in 15 games last season, despite dealing with a hamstring injury for much of the season. He has 37.5 sacks and 14 forced fumbles in 63 games and 62 starts since being taken in the third round of the 2016 draft by the Jaguars.

Ngakoue wanted out of Jacksonville and thus refused to sign the franchise tender that the Jaguars gave him. That would have paid him $17.8 million this season. Instead, Ngakoue signed a revised one-year, $12 million contract with the Vikings on Sunday, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. That’s important because the Vikings had $12.5 million in salary-cap space entering Sunday, according to Over The Cap. The eventual plan will be to work out a long-term contract with Ngakoue. (Running back Dalvin Cook probably should have taken the offer the Vikings pulled off the table a few weeks back because that money is likely long gone.)

The Vikings reportedly will send a 2021 second-round and a conditional 2022 fifth-round draft pick to the Jaguars. The fifth-rounder will become a fourth-round selection if Ngakoue goes to the Pro Bowl this season and a third-round pick if Ngakoue goes to the Pro Bowl and the Vikings win the Super Bowl. That doesn’t seem like that big of price to pay when you consider Ngakoue’s age and position.

Much like with the Allen trade, which was made in April 2008 and cost the Vikings much more than this one, the Minnesota brass took advantage of a team that felt it had to move a disgruntled player. Allen arrived in Minnesota in his age 26 season and put together back-to-back 14.5 sack seasons, helping the Vikings to a berth in the NFC championship game in his second year. He had 85.5 sacks and 16 forced fumbles in six years and 96 games, never missing a start in that time.

It remains to be seen if Ngakoue can have that type of impact but that certainly will be the hope. The first step toward creating that hope was the Vikings’ willingness to make the trade and create such a pleasant Sunday morning surprise for their fan base. History, of course, tells us we shouldn’t be surprised at all.