LAKE FOREST – The Bears had plenty of intel on defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. The connections were everywhere.
Current Bears defensive line coach Travis Smith was his assistant defensive line coach in Las Vegas during the 2021 season. His main defensive line coach in Las Vegas was Rod Marinelli, who is one of Bears head coach Matt Eberflus’ coaching mentors. With Ngakoue playing for the Indianapolis Colts last season, Eberflus had plenty of friends with his former team to ask about the 28-year-old edge rusher.
Eberflus is confident that Ngakoue will fit the Bears’ 4-3 defensive scheme and the vibe that the team is trying to build in the locker room.
“It’s not going to be a stretch for him,” Eberflus said. “He fits really well, so we’re excited about that. And we had some intel on him. Obviously, what kind of teammate he is, what kind of person he is, what kind of worker he is, and he checked all the boxes there for us.”
Ngakoue was linked to the Bears throughout the offseason. The Bears had a clear need at defensive end and they had a league-leading amount of money to spend. Reports earlier in the offseason indicated that Ngakoue was holding out for a multi-year contract.
Ultimately, he signed with the Bears on a one-year, $10.5 million contract. The Bears made the deal official Friday.
“I just feel like it was a great fit,” Ngakoue said Friday at Halas Hall. “Like I said, going back to what this culture means here, just the history here and, also, it’s a great transition – easy transition.”
Ngakoue noted that he already has a tattoo of a bear on his hand, so it was fitting he wound up in orange and blue.
Ngakoue had 9.5 sacks last season with the Colts. In seven NFL seasons, he has never had fewer than eight sacks in a season. He has proven that he can disrupt the quarterback, and he has done it in a number of different situations and schemes.
The Bears will be the fifth team that Ngakoue has played for since 2020. He has been traded three times. For whatever reason, he has not found a long-term home. Ngakoue said he’s “not sure” why he has bounced around so much after playing his first four NFL seasons in Jacksonville.
“It goes back to productivity,” he said. “I feel like I’m blessed to be able to produce consistently and that’s what I plan on doing for my team here. We need to be able to be consistent and that’s what I’m trying to bring.”
Ngakoue instantly improves the Bears’ pass rush. He has totaled 65 sacks over seven NFL seasons. The knock on his game is that he’s not much help against the run.
A year ago with the Colts, he played 64% of defensive snaps (including two missed games). The Colts trusted him in many situations. Ngakoue said he’ll let his play speak for itself when it comes to defending the run.
“We see him as an every-down end,” Eberflus said. “So he’s going to have to play in those situations, and he’s done it. He’s been good at it and we’ve got to make sure that he sharpens that part of it as well. And he will do that.”
As his free agency period dragged into the summer, Ngakoue said he just focused on working out. Bears general manager Ryan Poles has shown a willingness to be patient in free agency. Last year, too, he signed several veterans just a day ahead of training camp.
“We see [Yannick Ngakoue] as an every-down end. So he’s going to have to play in those situations, and he’s done it.”— Matt Eberflus, Bears head coach
Prior to signing Ngakoue, the Bears still had $28 million in available salary cap space. Poles had money to spend, but he also waited Ngakoue out and didn’t overspend.
“It takes two to make sure it works out, so there’s a level of patience that comes with,” Poles said July 25 as training camp began. “There’s no guarantee.”
With Ngakoue in the mix, he and free agent addition DeMarcus Walker should be the starting defensive ends, at least on paper. Dominique Robinson, Trevis Gipson, Rasheem Green and Terrell Lewis are likely the reserves rotating in off the bench.
Ngakoue has worn the No. 91 jersey for every team he has played for. Robinson, a second-year defensive end, currently wears No. 91. Ngakoue has paid teammates for the number in the past, so Robinson should be ready to start negotiating.
“Whatever it takes for me to get the jersey,” Ngakoue said. “I mean, honestly, I love that number.”