The season for rumors and speculation is still very much upon us. The Cleveland Browns recently released offensive tackle Joe Haeg, freeing up an additional $2 million in cap space. While the immediate speculation (and maybe hope) was that the move meant more resources available for free-agent wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the reality is that the Browns are probably not finished building the defensive line.
Veteran edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue has been a force throughout his seven-year career in the NFL. Ngakoue was a third-round pick in 2016 by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was an immediate starter as a rookie and played four seasons with the Jaguars, tallying 37.5 sacks.
After a dispute with the team, Ngakoue was traded to the Minnesota Vikings prior to the 2020 season. Then, before the trade deadline, he was traded again to the Baltimore Ravens. In 2021, he signed with the Las Vegas Raiders and was then traded to the Indianapolis Colts in 2022.
That's a lot of movement for a top-end pass-rush talent. According to Nick Shook from Around The NFL, Ngakoue has said, "I'm ready to have a stable home and just to be able to be on a multi-year deal."
And who can blame him? Despite the constant movement around the league, Ngakoue has produced everywhere he's been. Most recently in 2021 with the Raiders, he played all 17 games and led the team with 10 sacks. And in 2022 with the Colts, he played in 15 games and led yet another team in sacks with 9.5.
If the Browns were to add Ngakoue to the roster, he would have an immediate impact on the field in 2023. The 6-foot-2 246-pound edge rusher will be just 28 years old this season, meaning he's firmly in his prime and would be an excellent two-to-three-year deal type of player for the Browns. And if Ngakoue could lead the Raiders and Colts in sacks, imagine what he could do opposite Myles Garrett.
Garrett is also a big reason why the Browns may actually need Ngakoue more than many people realize. One constant knock against Garrett year after year is how he's not always effective late in games. Garrett's stamina isn't at a level that truly allows him to be a high-impact player when he's also an every-down player.
With Ngakoue on the roster, Garrett no longer needs to be an every-down player. The defensive line would have a wealth of talent off the edge. Za'Darius Smith and Ngakoue would be a nightmare pairing on any line, and now they would be teamed up with Garrett. And then include Ogbo Okoronkwo and Alex Wright along with rookie Isaiah McGuire, and the options for new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz would be endless.
Imagine how dangerous the Browns defensive line would be in the fourth quarter of games. They would not only have elite pass rushers, but they would have fresh elite pass rushers. In 2022, Smith generated 78 pressures, Garret generated 73, Ngakoue generated 44 and Okoronkwo generated 36. That would put 231 pressures from 2022 on Cleveland's defensive line in 2023.
With Garrett and Smith leading the way and Ngakoue and Okoronkwo playing more pass-rush specialist roles, the Browns defensive line would have the potential to be the best in the league.