Everson Griffen is gone, but the swagger from the right edge of the Vikings defensive line isn’t.
Yannick Ngakoue, acquired in a trade with Jacksonville this week, shows no fear discussing his goals of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame and teaming with Danielle Hunter to give the Vikings the best edge-rushing tandem in the NFL.
“When they talk about edge rushers, we want them to talk about Danielle and Yannick,” Ngakoue said Friday. “We want to become the best of the best. We want to be elite.”
The bookend 25-year-olds already are elite. Both are third-round draft picks. Hunter has 54½ sacks in five seasons while Ngakoue has 37½ in four seasons.
After becoming “disheartened” with the Jaguars during long-term contract talks, Ngakoue refused to sign his $17.8 million franchise tag. He said the Vikings “came out of the blue” among other potential suitors when they offered the Jaguars a second-round pick in 2021 and a conditional fifth-rounder in 2022.
“What is exciting to me about joining the Vikings is a fresh start,” Ngakoue said. “Breath of fresh air.”
The fresh air cost him $5.8 million. The Vikings are paying him $12 million, including a $4 million signing bonus.
“Money was never my drive coming into this business,” he said. “It has never been my drive.”
Ngakoue said he hasn’t thought about a long-term contract. Not with the Sept. 13 season opener against the Packers fast approaching.
Ngakoue practiced for the first time this year on Thursday. Coach Mike Zimmer said Ngakoue looked to be in good shape but will need time learning the entire playbook for an unfamiliar system.
Ngakoue said his conditioning is fine and he’s just “knocking a little bit of the rust off.” He’s also adjusting to lining up in a three-point stance for the first time since 2017, when he made his only Pro Bowl after posting a career-high 12 sacks and an NFL-leading six forced fumbles.
Ngakoue said he’s confident that Andre Patterson, the Vikings’ defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator, will “get me groomed up enough to the point where I should be able to hopefully make some plays for these guys [against the Packers].”
Meanwhile, Zimmer would only say, “We’ll see” when asked whether Hunter will be available for the opener. Hunter has not practiced since Aug. 16 because of what Zimmer says is a “tweak.”
Hunter has praised Patterson for making him into one of the best defenders in the league. Ngakoue said he’s heard about that as well as Patterson’s tutelage of Vikings Hall of Famers John Randle and Chris Doleman.
“That’s what I’m most excited about, getting a different coaching style and continuing to get pushed,” he said. “That’s one of my dreams and aspirations is to be able to get a gold jacket one day.
“I see in [TCO Performance Center], they have on the wall all the Hall of Famers … and I just feel like that’s the biggest motivation if you really love this game. You look to your right and you see the John Randles, the Randy Mosses, the Cris Carters. That’s my inspiration.”
One of the ways Ngakoue thinks he will get there is forcing fumbles. He has 14 of them, fourth-most in the NFL since 2016.
“Everybody can get sacks. It’s easy,” he said. “But the guys that are special, that get gold jackets, are the guys than can change the game.”
Oh, there’s one other goal Ngakoue has. To make people identify the number 91 with only him. That’s why he bought the number from teammate Jalyn Holmes for a price he wouldn’t reveal except to say, “not much.”
“To me,” he said, “I feel like there’s only one 91 in this era now that can do what I do.”
Cleveland is sidelined
Backup guard Ezra Cleveland, the team’s rookie second-round draft pick, went through warmups but did not practice during the brief portion open to the media. He was wearing a sleeve on his left leg.
Hunter and defensive tackle Armon Watts also went through warmups only.
Fans in the stands
The Vikings will play their first two home games at U.S. Bank Stadium without spectators, but they joined a group of teams selling cardboard cutouts of fans to put in the seats.
Fans can buy a cutout for $150 and submit a photo of themselves in Vikings gear on the team website. Proceeds will go to charity, and fans get to keep the cutout at the end of the season. The cutout would need to be ordered by Tuesday to be in place for the opener vs. the Packers on Sept. 13.
The Indianapolis Colts, who play host to the Vikings in Week 2, announced Friday that up to 2,500 fans will be allowed at 63,000-seat Lucas Oil Stadium for the Sept. 20 game.