While the bright shiny object of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ upcoming off-season work will be the search for the team’s future at quarterback, the team has several decisions to make along the defensive side of the football about which players stay or go from a unit that finished in the top ten of the NFL rankings for each of the last three seasons.
As the scuttlebutt focuses on the moves the team will make to trim the roster of excess cap space, one move not getting much attention is the impending need to provide defensive end Yannick Ngakoue with a much deserved contract extension.
Ngakoue enters the 2019 season on the final year of his initial rookie contract, and currently stands to make a mere $1,048,313 next season. To put that in context from the Jags total roster, he enters 2019 behind the likes of Duane Smoot, Cody Davis, Lerentee McCray, and Carlos Hyde in terms of total salary due.
For a guy who has amassed 29.5 sacks in his first three seasons with the team, was a 2017 Pro Bowler, and is clearly the best pure edge rusher the franchise has had since Tony Brackens in the late 1990s, that’s a steal for the team but a huge risk in the long-term.
Yes, the team is coming up against the cap and will need to cut players on each side of the ball to get under the likely league cap figure, last estimated to be between $187-$191 million, come March 13th. However, the upcoming moves seem easily accomplished based off performance and age and the team should have more than enough once the transactions are completed to provide Ngakoue with a generous offer that would keep him a Jacksonville Jaguar for the foreseeable future.
Per Spotrac.com, the likely upcoming releases of Blake Bortles, Malik Jackson, Jeremy Parnell, and Carlos Hyde will push the Jaguars cap back into the positive range leaving them approximately $18.5 million in cap room. The team could make those moves alone and have enough to provide Ngakoue with a contract similar to the Los Angeles Chargers and Melvin Ingram (4 years/$64 million/$32 million guaranteed) or the Buccaneers’ Jason Pierre-Paul (4 years/$62 million/$34 million guaranteed).
This would leave him among the top-five highest paid 4-3 defensive ends in the league, even factoring in the impending contract for DeMarcus Lawrence in Dallas.
The Jaguars can — and likely would — choose to makes some additional moves whether through cuts or restructuring contracts to free up additional space to maneuver around, but again, it’s very doable.
The team is in a position to allow Ngakoue to play out his last season and make use of the franchise tag in 2020. However, they will then be paying out an average of the league’s top defensive line salaries for a year, which would include the astronomic figures from the contracts of players like Aaron Donald, and put the Jaguars guaranteeing a much higher figure than they could otherwise lock in for one season of work and be right back to negotiating— with Ngakoue’s camp holding all the cards, particularly if he has another double-digit sack year in ‘19.
This front office has handed out extensions that proved to be done far too soon (see Blake Bortles, Alan Hurns, Telvin Smith) but Ngakoue is a player at a premium position and one who, unlike the previously mentioned players erroneously rewarded, truly has shown the ability to be among the elite players at the position he plays.
While the team also has the impending negotiations of Pro Bowl corner Jalen Ramsey to consider as well, the Jaguars have much more leverage with him in the use of the fifth-year option in 2020, and additional franchise tags at their behest following that, if necessary. The team does not have the same luxury with Ngakoue, and in today’s NFL you simply do not let a premier edge rusher entering his prime walk out the door, unless you’re the Raiders.