The Indianapolis Colts have already replaced their head coach twice within the past four months. After a season filled with turnover at quarterback, the expectation is the team will make more changes behind center this offseason as well.
According to Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport, the Colts will also have to replace their 2022 sack leader.
Davenport predicted defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who led the Colts with 9.5 sacks during the 2022 season, will sign a three-year, $45.5 million contract with the Cincinnati Bengals. Davenport projected that $27.5 million of the deal will be guaranteed.
“Ngakoue hasn’t been a player who will post truly gaudy numbers, as he’s hit the 10-sack mark just twice in his career. But he has been consistent,” Davenport wrote.
“In fact, those 9.5 sacks in 2022 made so that he’s recorded at least eight sacks in each of his first seven seasons—a feat that has been accomplished just five times in the history of the NFL.”
Ngakoue recorded 29 combined tackles, including 8 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hits and a forced fumble to go with his 9.5 sacks last year.
It was his first campaign with the Colts after playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders during the first six seasons of his career.
Ngakoue Expected to Earn Big Contract in Free Agency
Davenport called Ngakoue “arguably the best edge-rusher in a relatively unimpressive class of free agents.” From a pure sack perspective, that’s just about correct.
Of the edge rushers that Pro Football Focus rated in the Top 100 available free agents this offseason, only Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham had more sacks than Ngakoue last season.
Ngakoue has also been the model of consistency. In each of his seven NFL seasons, he’s posted at least 8 sacks. Davenport noted that a defender reaching 8 sacks in each of his first seven seasons has been accomplished just five times in NFL history.
The 27-year-old is a liability against the run. That’s why PFF has Ngakoue ranked seventh among edge rushers and the No. 60 player overall available in the 2023 free agency class. CBS Sports rated him the No. 51 best available player in free agency.
But the Bengals could use a pure pass rusher. Cincinnati finished 29th in sacks with 30 last season.
How the Colts Replace Ngakoue
If Ngakoue departs for Cincinnati or any other team, the Colts will be losing one of their two defenders that had more than 6 sacks last season.
Although he started the 2022 season slowly, Ngakoue recorded 7 sacks, 5 tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hits during a seven-game stretch from Weeks 7-16. That effort helped keep the Colts defense competitive for a majority of the season.
It’s difficult to replace elite pass rushers in free agency. But the Colts appear poised to select a quarterback in the first round and may need to trade additional draft picks in order to move up the draft board for the chance to select their preferred choice behind center.
That means finding a free agent to replace Ngakoue might be the best solution. One possibility is another former Jaguars defensive end — Arden Key.
The 26-year-old has never posted more than 6.5 sacks in a season, but he’s better against the run than Ngakoue. He should also be cheaper; PFF predicted Key to sign a two-year, $18.5 million deal.
Houston Texans defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo could be another option. PFF projected him to sign a two-year, $11 million contract. Okoronkwo posted a career-high 5 sacks in 2022.
The Colts could pair either Key or Okoronkwo with a rookie pass rusher selected in the middle rounds of the 2023 draft.