According to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, the Baltimore Ravens attempted to trade for Minnesota Vikings pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue before the season when Ngakoue was still with the Jacksonville Jaguars. His report suggested the team was willing to part ways with a second-round pick to acquire the former Maryland standout but simply couldn’t work out the financial terms for Ngakoue this season. He, of course, was instead dealt to the Vikings for second- and fifth-round picks.
I like Yannick Ngakoue. I absolutely think he was worth the price the Vikings paid for him (if perhaps not a little more). Yet my reaction at the time of the trade was something more along the lines of, “I still don’t know if the Ravens should do it.”
The reason? A combination of my feelings about the roster as constructed as well as the tangible and intangible costs.
Let me start with the intangible first. The intangible is the opportunity cost of what acquiring Ngakoue does for the rest of the roster. With quarterback Lamar Jackson, offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, tight end Mark Andrews, offensive tackle Orlando Brown and even wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown all likely set to get big money in the coming years, it seems unlikely that the math will work out (particularly remembering the salary cap almost certainly will at the least not be going up next season due to the pandemic) to keep all these players long term.
It would appear as though either they would be unable to keep Ngakoue around (particularly with pass rush costs skyrocketing in recent seasons) or that signing him would cost them one or more members of the group.
Now combine that with the tangible cost, that being the value of a second-round pick. As the Ravens prepare to start handing out these contracts to keep their core together, those picks become significantly more valuable. It’s not just that the team can’t afford to miss with those picks — they most certainly can’t afford to not have them. Need I remind you what happened the last time this franchise paid major money to a quarterback and then started to struggle with early-round draft selections?
So I was ultimately OK with the Ravens not paying that price for Ngakoue.
And then “Monday Night Football” happened.
I don’t mean to dramatically overreact to one football game. The Ravens got their butts kicked by the Chiefs Sept. 28. There’s no way around that. But it’s one football game. And until something else happens, there’s no reason for me to think the Ravens won’t continue to win the majority of their games, roll to an AFC North title and be one of the top seeds in the AFC.
But we can’t ignore the issue, either. The Ravens will almost certainly have to get past the Chiefs in order to win the Super Bowl. Not just this Super Bowl, either. There’s every reason to believe that if the Ravens are going to win a Super Bowl in the near future, they’re going to have to go through the Chiefs in order to get there.
And while it is completely fair to ask whether the Ravens’ offensive strategy was a major culprit in both this regular-season loss and last year’s regular-season defeat in Kansas City, we also have to address the fact that in both games, the otherwise stellar Ravens defense showed about as much resistance against Patrick Mahomes and Co. as I do when there’s leftover tortellini in the house.
And the specific issue is fairly clear. The Ravens have built a defense in which quarterback pressure has come from defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s scheming and exotic blitzes instead of investing heavy capital in rushers who are more capable of winning one-one-one battles themselves. That strategy has largely served them well (and might continue to for the most part) but just doesn’t work against Mahomes and his collection of wonderful toys.
So maybe I was wrong. It might well have been worth it for the Ravens to pay that cost for Ngakoue. Even if it cost them something long term, it might well have been worth it.
And as the Ravens have shown a willingness to make trades in recent years, it’s worth considering whether something could still be done now. I’m not sure what’s going to be on the market. Ngakoue’s current team is 0-3, and while they have reportedly intended to sign him long term, no deal is in place as of yet. The Ravens ran into cap issues the last time they attempted to deal for Ngakoue, and those issues would remain no matter what they might try to accomplish before the deadline.
And pass rush might not be the only area where pursuing help makes sense. While the Ravens would be wise to continue to be a run-dominant offense moving forward, the need for an additional pass catcher (spare me the Antonio Brown conversation) can’t be ignored either.
They don’t need a “better” roster. But they might well need a slightly “different” roster — specifically to beat the Chiefs. And Mahomes isn’t going anywhere. The path to a Super Bowl title is getting no easier in the coming years.
Again, I can’t name names. I don’t know what the cost would be for certain players. But I know this franchise would be wise to consider any possibilities — no matter the cost — to give itself the absolute best chance specifically of beating the Chiefs.
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