The Jacksonville Jaguars find themselves in a stalemate with star defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. The Jags have placed him on the franchise tag but he is, very publicly, on the record stating his career is Jacksonville is over. It is not difficult to see why. He has watched as a number of high profile pieces of the once vaunted Jags defense have exited the building. This was a defence rated as 1st by DVOA in 2017, then 6th in 2018 with a catastrophic drop to 29th last season. Jalen Ramsey – gone, Calais Campbell – gone, AJ Bouye – gone, Dante Fowler JR – gone, the list seems endless. In just 2 years the defense has crumbled with Ngakoue left to try and negotiate his way out too.
There is little doubt he is a very talented defensive end with four consistent seasons of excellent production (37.5 sacks, each season 8.0 and above) and has been an ever-present on the defensive front with only 1 game missed. He is of great value to the Jaguars and will be to his next team as well. Therein lies the problem, he is not going to come cheap.
The franchise tag placed on Ngakoue guarantees him approximately $19M this year (per Over The Cap). However, Ngakoue will be well aware of the comparable deals that have taken place in recent times for Frank Clark (Seahawks to Chiefs) and Dee Ford (Chiefs to 49ers) and he will be looking for similar numbers (Ford $87.5M, 5-years, Clark $105.5M, 5-years). His production suggests he is well worth it, and in his prime for this next contract at 25 years old. The Jaguars, meanwhile, will also be well aware of those deals and the draft capital it cost the Chiefs and 49ers to secure those players. Clark cost the Chiefs a 2019 1st rounder and a 2020 2nd rounder (plus a swap in the 3rd) and Ford cost the 49ers a 2nd round pick.
So, two things are certain around any movement for Yannick Ngakoue. Whichever team comes in for him need to have the cap space to pay Ngakoue and the draft capital to offer the Jaguars in order for this to happen. Taking those two aspects into account what scenarios could come into play around the NFL draft to secure a deal. In these scenarios it is working on the basis that any team is going to need to offer 2 high value picks to the Jaguars and the money on the table is going to involve something in the order of $22M for this season as part of a long-term deal which guarantees him somewhere in the region of $100M over 4-5 years (something that makes him the highest paid defensive end in the league).
The Jaguars are nicely placed in the 2020 NFL Draft. They own 12 picks with two first rounders and one pick in each of the day 2 rounds. They have plenty of opportunity to rebuild the roster. This also gives them the freedom to deal on day one. They also own two first rounders in 2021. Therefore I think they would accept moving up from either 9 or 20 on day 1 of this year’s draft and a 2021 2nd rounder, with maybe throwing in a sweeter to improve their 2020 3rd round pick too.
With that in mind, who could be the suitors for Ngakoue and do they have the cap space available to pay him the huge contract?
Washington Redskins – sat at pick #2 with the assumption that they will be looking to take Chase Young. What if the Redskins decided to go with a proven player over the college prospect at the same position? The added bonus here for the Jaguars would be that they could move up and secure Ngakoue’s successor and what a coup it would be! The cap space is there at approx. $27M and the Redskins could throw in a 3rd round swap of #66 for #73 as the cherry on top. The question may be would Ngakoue be convinced the Redskins are in a better position than the Jaguars?
Detroit Lions – the Lions, and more specifically Head Coach Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn, are under pressure. Owner, Martha Firestone Ford, wants results and fast. Their free agency signings may yet prove to help in this regard but the jury is out and they need to nail the draft. They have been touted as a team willing to trade down, mostly with an eye on a deal with a team in need of a quarterback (the Dolphins or Chargers often quoted) but what if they could work a deal with the Jaguars for Ngakoue? Again it could be a similar deal to the one the Redskins would offer. The Lions would get pick number 9 and Ngakoue, with the Jaguars coming up to the third overall pick. Again a 2021 2nd round pick plus a switch of 2020 3rd rounders (#67 for #73) could do the trick plus the Jaguars would still likely be able to draft Derrick Brown, Jeffrey Okudah or Isaiah Simmons. The cap space is there for Detroit at around $31M and a the capture of Ngakoue could relieve some of the pressure on Patricia and Quinn, for now.
New York Giants – how the Giants need a premier pass rusher. The Giants fan base is screaming out for one and there is still disquiet at the deal which has seen Leonard Williams franchise tagged at a cost of this year’s high 3rd round pick. What if the Giants were able to offer a deal which included Williams going to the Jaguars? This could see the teams swap first round picks (#4 and #9) and players with the Giants throwing in their 2021 2nd rounder. Two stumbling blocks here: it requires both players to be content with their new destinations and the Giants cap space (approx. $13M plus savings from Williams) means there may need to be some accountancy work to get the deal done. If it did work out it would be a real coup for the Giants and Gettlemen, again relieving some pressure off an under-fire GM.
Those first three options would require Ngakoue to be happy to move to another franchise looking to rebuild, which may not appeal. However, there are other options which could either focus in on the Jaguars 20th pick or teams where the offer is a 2020 2nd rounder and a 2021 1st rounder.
New York Jets – the Jets can be considered to be starting to get themselves on an upward curve. Free agency has filled some holes on the offensive line and they have their franchise QB in Sam Darnold. They also have sufficient cap space (around the $30M mark) to play with. The trade deal could have a similar look to the ones listed previously with the Jaguars moving up to #11 and the Jets down to #20 plus the Jets 2021 2nd rounder but this may require a little more value. How about, in a move which would anger rival Giants fans even more, the Jets used their additional 3rd pick (68 courtesy of the Williams deal with Big Blue) to seal the deal. Ngakoue may see the AFC East as a nice change of scenery, particularly in view of recent personnel changes in New England.
Philadelphia Eagles – the Eagles are in a good position. Within the NFC East they are easily they are a stable franchise with all three divisional rivals appointing new Head Coaches for the 2020 season. They have cap space available (around $29M) and they may view the next season as a sweetspot where they will be early favourites for the division title and another run at the playoffs and a second Super Bowl title. I think this would be the alternative arrangement of offering the 2020 2nd rounder and a 2021 1st rounder to the Jaguars to see if they bite (again it may require an additional 3rd or 4th rounder from 2020). The draft board is certainly strong enough that the Jags could be confident of picking up a very useful player at #53 and would give them 4 picks across the first two rounds. Ngakoue may be attracted to a franchise where he could be that all important jigsaw piece which takes the Eagles to a championship.
The final team I would consider is the Miami Dolphins who are awash with three first round picks in this year’s draft and they have two 2021 first rounders as well. They are the team who could potentially dangle the most by way of draft compensation to the Jaguars for Ngakoue. They could even go as high as two first round picks (#18 or #26 this year then the 2021 pick). The cap space is there at around $25M and Ngakoue may be persuaded that the Dolphins will be on the rise, albeit that it may take 2 or 3 years for them to peak if all goes well.
There are also a couple of places I do not think Ngakoue will land as both the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans are need at this position, with the cap space to make a move. It would surely be out of the question for the Jaguars to deal with either of these divisional rivals only to see Ngakoue terrorise Gardner Minshew twice a season for the next 4-5 years?
Ultimately it is a combination of the numbers on the table for Ngakoue, the current and immediate term expected fortunes of his future team, and where the Jaguars are content to see him go. Ideally I’d think they would be happiest dealing with an NFC team so he is least likely to come back and haunt them. However, there is an upside to dealing with any of the teams listed above. The potential compensation for Ngakoue is substantial and may go a long way to them reviving their fortunes sooner rather than later.