Yannick Ngakoue has been one of the veteran pass rushers most heavily linked to the Chicago Bears since the start of 2023 free agency, but the 28-year-old defensive end may have just taken the Bears out of the running to sign him.
In a recent interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio, Ngakoue told Rick Spielman and Bruce Murray that he is waiting for the “right opportunity” to join a Super Bowl contender in free agency and is hoping to secure a multi-year contract from his next team that will allow him to “ground” himself after playing for four teams over the past three seasons.
“At this stage in my career, being in my later 20s, I definitely want to play for a contender, play for a team and an organization that wants to win a Super Bowl,” Ngakoue said on June 2.” That’s one of the things on my agenda is to be able to help and contribute to that. Hopefully, I can gain some great interest from a contender.”
Ngakoue, 28, is one of the top remaining pass-rushing talents on the open market and has been linked repeatedly to the Bears ever since they came out of the 2023 NFL draft without adding a new defensive end to their roster. Most recently, ESPN’s Matt Bowen picked Chicago as the “best team fit” for Ngakoue, as the Bears do not currently have a pass rusher with the sack production he brings to the table (19.5 sacks since 2021).
“I just feel like the right opportunity will present itself and I’ll be able to join a great organization to try to win a Super Bowl,” Ngakoue said.
Could Bears Sell Yannick Ngakoue on Title Window?
The Bears have done a nice job of improving their roster from last season, adding next-level talent at several spots — linebacker, wide receiver, offensive line — that should help them put together a more competent campaign than their 3-14 finish in 2022. The expectation, however, is that the Bears will need at least one more season before they have enough talent in the right spots to truly contend for a Super Bowl championship.
Could Poles and Eberflus sell Ngakoue on their title window opening soon, though?
Ngakoue’s comments could be read as him wanting to go to an established contender, such as Kansas City, Buffalo or Cincinnati, but his desire to “help and contribute” to the quest for a Super Bowl may keep him open to the possibility of joining a team that believes it is close but not quite there yet. Now, there is no guaranteeing the Bears fit that bill, even after making significant offseason upgrades, but they do have a player-respected talent in quarterback Justin Fields and the need for a veteran pass rusher.
The Bears also have the salary-cap space to make a compelling, long-term offer to Ngakoue that could help him get what he wants out of his next team. According to Over the Cap, the Bears have about $32.5 million in space left for 2023 and are currently projected to have the third-most space (roughly $96.7 million) for the 2024 season.
“For me personally, I’ve been to a couple of stops and I just feel like instead of doing business, I’m ready to have a stable home and be on a multi-year deal,” Ngakoue said, deferring the financial details to what his agent and next team decide he is “worth.”
In other words, if the Bears decided they want Ngakoue in the picture, they will not only have to put together one helluva sales pitch about their potential to contend for a Super Bowl in the next few seasons but also prepare to make a long-term commitment to him — which Poles may not want to give to a 28-year-old at this phase of the rebuild.
“Whoever ends up taking a chance on me, I’m just excited to go back out there and play some good football,” Ngakoue said.
Which Other DEs Could Bears Target for 2023?
If Ngakoue’s next-team interests take him somewhere other than Chicago, the Bears will still have a few options to choose from on the free agent market in terms of adding another quality, experienced pass rusher to their roster ahead of the 2023 campaign.
Frank Clark — who turns 30 in June — is still available and has a degree of familiarity with Poles, who saw the veteran defensive end earn three straight Pro Bowl selections during his time in the Chiefs’ player personnel department from 2019 to 2021. While it is possible Clark is also looking to latch on with a contender, he might be more willing to sign a one-year contract to boost his free-agent profile for future offseasons.
A younger fit who could have long-term potential with the Bears is Dawuane Smoot, who played for the University of Illinois in college and was a 2017 third-round pick. Smoot had his 2022 season ended prematurely after tearing his Achilles last December, but he has been consistently effective in true pass sets for Jacksonville’s defense over the past four seasons with 22.5 sacks and 27 tackles for loss during that span.
If the medical evaluations look good for Smoot, he could be a worthwhile pickup.