The belief around the NFL community appears to be that the Kansas City Chiefs could still bring in one veteran pass rusher to help the transition of 2023 first rounder Felix Anudike-Uzomah — who has eased into practices after an offseason surgery.
Long-time ESPN columnist Bill Barnwell ran with this theory on May 16, predicting that the Chiefs would sign another edge as their main post-draft move. “The defensive line could still use a bit of work,” Barnwell explained. “The Chiefs moved on from Frank Clark and Carlos Dunlap after the Super Bowl. Both are still on the free agent market, but the Chiefs have gone in other directions [Charles Omenihu, Anudike-Uzomah].”
“George Karlaftis gives the Chiefs another first-round pick (2022) in their edge rotation, but against an AFC full of devastating quarterbacks, I still think the Chiefs could stand to add another pass-rusher,” he continued, suggesting a few free agents including former Las Vegas Raiders 2021 17-game starter Yannick Ngakoue, who spent the 2022 campaign with the Indianapolis Colts.
“Ngakoue is the most appealing option of the bunch, but he would also be the most expensive,” Barnwell went on. “He has been remarkably consistent in terms of pass-rush production, posting 8-12.5 sacks in each of his seven pro seasons. On the other hand, teams have seemingly fallen out of love with Ngakoue quickly; he has now played for five teams over the past four seasons.”
He concluded that “if the Chiefs are looking to do only a one-year deal… no long-term love affair [with Ngakoue] would be necessary.”
Chiefs & Yannick Ngakoue Could Make for Win-Win in Free Agency
Ngakoue to the Chiefs actually makes sense for a lot of reasons. Chris Jones — along with a contingent of fans — has urged KC to re-sign Clark at a cheaper rate but there’s no guarantee “the Shark” agrees to a bargain offer after taking a pay-cut in 2022.
In the event a Clark reunion doesn’t work out — or the Chiefs decide to turn the page — Ngakoue makes for an ideal replacement. He’s been far more productive than Clark during the regular season with 19.5 sacks over the past two years, and he’s also served as a veteran leader donning the captain’s “C” in Vegas.
Despite more national recognition, Clark has only registered 9.5 regular season sacks over the past two campaigns. As fans know, his impact has typically been greater in the playoffs with 10.5 postseason sacks in Kansas City over 12 appearances.
For whatever reason, Ngakoue has bounced around the league as a sort of mercenary pass rusher since being drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in round three of the 2016 draft. He was traded to Minnesota in 2020 before a quick midseason trade to Baltimore.
After that, he inked a two-year, $21 million deal with the Raiders — who decided to trade him to Indy after a 10-sack campaign in 2021. Now Ngakoue is a free agent again, and the Chiefs could make sense for the 28-year-old DE considering he’s never been to a Super Bowl.
The impact edge rusher has 66 career sacks (1.0 in the playoffs), 138 career QB hits (three in the playoffs) and 66 career tackles for a loss (one in the playoffs).
Can the Chiefs Afford Yannick Ngakoue in NFL Free Agency?
Given his impressive track record, it remains to be seen how much Ngakoue would be willing to sign for in 2023. His market seemingly has not materialized as expected, considering his availability in May, but that doesn’t mean he’ll join the Chiefs for pennies on the dollar.
Spotrac initially valued Ngakoue at $14.8 million per year, although that feels unrealistic at this stage of free agency. Younger pass rushers like Omenihu and Arden Key signed for $7-8 million per year this spring, while a similar asset like Samson Ebukam earned $8 million per season and an older injury-prone talent like Bud Dupree accepted $3 million on a prove-it contract.
It was a slightly recessed market this offseason on the edge, which explains why Ngakoue and Clark are still available, among others. KC general manager Brett Veach is likely monitoring all of these options just in case a one-year, incentivized deal is on the table somewhere.
That’s what Barnwell is suggesting with Ngakoue, and that’s what the Chiefs will be looking for this summer if they feel their pass rushing core is too young and inexperienced. Of course, they’d have to free up room either way. Right now, Kansas City only has 1.861 million in available cap space according to Over the Cap.