In recent weeks, it seems the only conversation both locally and nationally regarding the Jaguars has not had anything to do with new quarterback Nick Foles and the turnaround the passing game appears to begin to be making after ten OTA and three mini-camp practices this spring, but rather the business-side of the team’s football operations with regards to the contracts of Yannick Ngakoue and Jalen Ramsey.
The seeming lack of progress on either player’s new deals and the vocal desire for new deals each player has made known, has led to Twitter debates between player agents and esteemed journalists; National analysts to opine that the team is in a downward spiral of institutional control; And obviously plenty of “dead zone” content on this very website. All of this after only a few weeks of well-minced words from the players and dead silence from the team’s front office.
As noted, these “will they/won’t they” speculations make for great time-killers in late June as we await the dog days of summer and the last four weeks before welcoming football back in to consume our daily lives, but the talk is just that—- talk.
The signing of an extension for Ngakoue, ensuring he is paid to the level of his performance over the course of his first three seasons, is inevitable. Yes, the team isn’t in the same budgetary situation as it was two seasons ago when it went drunk on free agent spending and mostly bad extensions, but they are not in some dire straits from which they’ll need years to recover after the ‘19 season like the late ‘90s Jaguars, as some make it seem. The extension for Ngakoue will likely come in at between $18.5-$19 million per year with enough upfront guaranteed money to both spread out the cap ramifications for the team, and ease the Ngakoue camp’s mind about the missing $1-$2 million in salary that’s really window dressing for the agent. As mentioned, the Jags can structure the contract similarly to the way the Chiefs did Frank Clark’s deal, pushing guaranteed money upfront to allow for a lower salary hit in ‘19 on the books. The imminent release of Marcel Dareus and others coming next winter, as well as Telvin Smith likely being placed on the Did Not Report list in August, will be sufficient to allow the team to absorb the heavier load of the deal in forthcoming seasons and that’s without knowing the new collective bargaining details in 2021, which will likely lead to an ever larger cash net for teams.
It’s been overlooked in all the discussion, but the team essentially provided Ramsey with a one-year extension last month when they announced they were opting in to his fifth-year option, a designation that will guarantee him at least $14 million in ‘20. In contrast, Xavien Howard who the Dolphins recently made the league’s highest-paid corner, is making a little over $15 million per season. Ramsey is scheduled to make $5.8 million this season, essentially giving him an additional $10 million in guaranteed money next year and keeping his salary among the top of the league. The team likely will look towards next off-season to begin serious negotiations with Ramsey’s camp about a long-term deal, but they can still drag it out while ensuring he remains provided with an ample amount of guaranteed cash by using the franchise tag designation in ‘21 and ‘22.
The funny thing about the cornerback market, as opposed to defensive end, is that the ceiling for top salaries has been franchise friendly league-wide. The top five corners from a salary perspective, Howard, Josh Norman, Trumaine Johnson, Xavier Rhodes, and Patrick Peterson have all signed deals in recent years, and none have eclipsed the $15 million per year mark. From both a cap and value standpoint, that’s something a team can seemingly digest relatively easily. Jalen will undoubtedly be looking to be well above that figure, but the precedent simply isn’t there, which leaves the Jaguars in a much more manageable situation than on the Ngakoue front for at least the next few seasons.
The Jaguars don’t have the luxury with Ngakoue and whether publicly stated or not, they understand it. Defensive end is one position where a franchise simply doesn’t risk losing young talent unless they absolutely have to and even then it’s usually done with an abundance of depth waiting behind it, or frankly bad management (see the Raiders). The Jaguars are not anywhere near the position of the former, even with the drafting of Josh Allen, while the latter is certainly debatable. The team knows Calais Campbell’s days are also numbered, and will need a replacement for him likely after ‘19. Even if Allen is who most think he is, they still need an opposing end to cause the disruption that’s made the defense what it’s been. Perhaps the easiest way to think of the Ngakoue contract is simply this—- given what we know about the team and how it views young talent entering their second contracts, would the Jaguars heavily pursue Ngakoue this off-season if he were leaving another team? The answer is undoubtedly, yes.
To quote MMQB contributor and former Packers front office manager Andrew Brandt, “deadlines spur deals”. The Jaguars know time is running out on Ngakoue, while the fuse is much longer with Jalen. They are not going to let two players the franchise has spent a decade and a half trying to find, just walk out the door over a couple million dollar difference. They also are not going to set precedent of showing the rest of the league and especially it’s own locker room that doing things the “Jaguar way” and outperforming your contract at the same time, will in the end go unrewarded.
The team and Yannick will have a deal done this summer. Jalen will get his money too, in due time, and in Jacksonville. Now go and enjoy your summer, football is coming.