Then the edge rusher became a free agent, one of the most desirable free agents in the game. And on the first day of the legal tampering period, Ngakoue and the Raiders got hitched in, fittingly enough, a quickie Las Vegas-styled arrangement, with the former Pro Bowler inking a two-year, $26 million free-agent contract.
“This was the place that I’ve always dreamed about being to work,” he told beat reporters on a Zoom call. “The Raiders organization, they definitely tried to reach out and grab me early in the process. Unfortunately, it didn’t go the way we both wanted, so it took time. Ultimately, I’m … where I wanted to be and it worked out, so I would say everything happens for a reason.”
But how, exactly, does Ngakoue and his unique skillset fit in defensive coordinator Gus Bradleys’ 4-3 scheme, especially with the Raiders having invested a No. 4 overall pick two years ago on Clelin Ferrell (who plays right defensive end) and Maxx Crosby having racked up 17 sacks in his first two NFL seasons (yup, he plays left defensive end)?
One thought has Ferrell, who is stronger against the run than Crosby, on the right side and Ngakoue on the left on early downs, but putting Crosby in on the left side, Ngakoue on the right and sliding Ferrell to the interior on passing downs.
Whatever the situation, the Raiders anticipate rotations with Ngakoue being the most established edge rusher on the roster since Khalil Mack, who played for the Raiders from 2014-17 before holding out and being traded to the Chicago Bears in 2018.
“He’s an excellent pass rusher, obviously,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden told ESPN.com. “He has experience in our system — with our defensive coordinator — and I think he’s at a time in his career where he can help lead our young defense.”
Ngakoue has never had fewer than eight sacks in a season — he has 45 in 78 career games — and he helped close out the Oakland Coliseum with two sacks of Derek Carr in the Raiders’ final game in the East Bay on Dec. 15, 2019.
But Ngakoue’s tour de force season came in 2017, when he had 12 sacks, forced a league-high six fumbles and recovered a pair, including a 67-yard scoop-and-score off a Marcus Mariota fumble in the Jaguars’ season finale against the Tennessee Titans.
Still, he is coming off a lackluster (for him, anyway) season in which he started eight games and had a mere 11 QB hits while splitting time between Minnesota and Baltimore. The Raiders, meanwhile, were 29th in the NFL with 21 sacks last season (for what it’s worth, Crosby has more sacks over the past two years than Ngakoue, 17-16).
Just don’t question Ngakoue’s loyalty, despite the Raiders being his fourth team in less than seven months.
“It’s not too weird,” he said. “My love for the game is still there. There’s guys that have bounced around with teams before, not from a production standpoint, but just off of fits and things like that. It’s just part of the game. You can go down a long list of players that have played on multiple teams and had great careers like Terrell Owens, the Deion Sanders, the Kevin Greenes, may he rest in peace, guys like that.
“So, it’s not about how many times you’ve bounced around, it’s about what you do where you’re at.”
And where Ngakoue is now is back with Bradley, his first NFL head coach.
Bradley drafted Ngakoue for Jacksonville in the third round in 2016 and while they were together for only 14 games — Bradley was fired after a 2-12 start this season, a 14-48 combined record — the coach made a big impression on the player. Big enough to follow him to Las Vegas.
“It was a no-brainer,” Ngakoue said.
“He knows what I bring to this game. I feel like this is a coach that knows how to utilize my skill set to make it super effective to help a team as best as possible. With Gus being here, I know it’s like another father figure for me, it’s another guy that can help me out while I’m out here on a different coast. So, it’s a blessing.”
Another familiar face in Las Vegas?
Try left guard Richie Incognito, who Ngakoue accused of using a racial slur against him in a Jan. 7, 2018 playoff game when Ngakoue was with Jacksonville and Incognito with the Buffalo Bills. A few weeks later, though, Incognito said the two “hugged it out” at the Pro Bowl.
And last week, Ngakoue insisted any beef had been squashed.
“For sure,” Ngakoue said. “That’s been put to rest since the Pro Bowl. It’s part of the game — we all talk trash and stuff like that and sometimes we go overboard with things. But, you know, it’s all about forgiving, man, and I find that’s what’s wrong with the world nowadays — we look at problems that occur and we stick with that stigma and we don’t know how to forgive.
“I’m a forgiving dude and I don’t really care. I’m ready to play for Richie. I’m the type of guy that, when we’re playing, if somebody is in Richie’s face or anything like that, I’m backing him up 100%. So all that, that’s out the window.”
Yeah, it’s definitely still the honeymoon period for Ngakoue and the Raiders.