‘Best Available’ Pass Rusher Intrigued by Joining Bears

yannick ngakoue

Getty Former Raiders DE Yannick Ngakoue.

Another day of summer has come and gone, and the Chicago Bears are still holding out for their pass rusher of choice.

The simple fact is that if the Bears were true believers in defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, he would probably already be in training camp. Chris Emma of 670 The Score reported on July 25 that the former Pro-Bowl defensive end has specific “interest” in signing with the Bears.

David Kenyon of Bleacher Report on Saturday, July 30, named Ngakoue the best free agent pass rusher remaining on the market and the second-best available player across all positions behind only running back Dalvin Cook. That opinion, if widespread in league circles, could help spur Chicago into making an offer to Ngakoue sooner than later.

“If you need a disruptor, Yannick Ngakoue is your guy,” Kenyon wrote. “Ngakoue has registered eight-plus sacks in all seven NFL seasons, generating at least 26 pressures in each of the last five years. … As a bonus, Ngakoue has missed no more than two games in any season of his career.”

Yannick Ngakoue, Justin Houston Each Present Strong Cases as Potential Bears’ Targets

Yannick Ngakoue, Raiders

GettyFormer Las Vegas Raiders pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue getting ready for an NFL game.

The holdup is either that the Bears value another free agent defensive end more — perhaps former Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Justin Houston — or that the team is concerned about the number of years it will have to commit to Ngakoue to close the deal. Ngakoue made it clear this summer that he wants to sign with a contender on a multiyear contract.

Peggy Kusinski of ESPN reported on July 25 that Chicago numbers “among the teams interested” in Houston — a 34-year-old, four-time Pro Bowler coming off of a 9.5-sack campaign in Baltimore in 2022. Bears head coach Matt Eberflus has recent history with Houston, serving as his defensive coordinator between 2019-20 when the two were together with the Indianapolis Colts. Houston put up 19 sacks over that two-year span.

Ngakoue also played his most recent season (2022) in Indy, though he arrived the year after Eberflus departed for Chicago. Still, Ngakoue put up 27 quarterback pressures and 9.5 sacks in a defense built in Eberflus’ image last season, which bodes well for the kind of production the Bears can expect if they sign him.

Common logic dictates that Ngakoue makes more sense in Chicago this summer than does Houston. Both are pass-rushing specialists at this point in their careers and neither figures to be an every-down defensive end.

However, Ngakoue has played more at the DE position in 4-3 base defenses than Houston has of late, which is seemingly a better fit in Chicago — albeit a minor detail. A more significant detail is that Ngakoue is 28 years old, while Houston will play this season at the age of 34.

Yannick Ngakoue May Prove Too Costly to Fit Into Bears’ Future

Justin Houston

GettyFormer Baltimore Ravens pass rusher Justin Houston is a free agent target of the Chicago Bears in 2023.

That Chicago is expressing serious interest in Houston behind the scenes despite the fact that Ngakoue — who appears to be a superior option, at least on paper — is still available, lends itself to the notion that general manager Ryan Poles is seeking a shorter-term solution on the edge this year.

Money shouldn’t be an issue in either case. The Bears had nearly $28.4 million in salary cap space available as of Tuesday. Ngakoue is coming off of a two-year contract that paid him $26 million and has a projected market value of $14.8 million annually over a new four-year deal, per Spotrac. Houston played in 2022 on a one-year deal worth $3.5 million and carries a projected market value of $5.3 million annually over a two-year contract.

Assuming the Bears front office isn’t enamored with the idea of paying Ngakoue that much through his early 30s to produce 8-10 sacks per season but not much else, Houston is a better bridge option to a longer-term solution — especially at his projected price.

One such solution could play out via the trade market during the upcoming season, as the Washington Commanders are expected to at least kick the tires on dealing former No. 2 overall pick Chase Young. The team chose not to pick up Young’s fifth-year option this offseason after injuries robbed him of all but 12 regular season games over the past two years.

Young’s trade value is at an all-time low, though the edge defender earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2020 as well as a Pro-Bowl nod that season. If healthy, Young should re-establish some of his previous value by the NFL’s October 31 trade deadline, which would make him a viable trade candidate for a team like Chicago with a need off the edge and cash to spend.

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