By trading veterans like defensive lineman Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and quarterback Nick Foles and handing the reins under center over to second-year pro Gardner Minshew II, the Jacksonville Jaguars have made one thing crystal clear this offseason.
It's rebuild time.
There's one more major step to take in that rebuild—even if it's one the team doesn't necessarily want to take.
From the moment Jacksonville slapped the franchise tag on edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue, the 25-year-old has made it abundantly clear that not only does he not intend to play under that tag in 2020, but he doesn't want to play another snap with the franchise. After piling up 37.5 sacks over four seasons with the Jaguars, Ngakoue wants out—period.
With the July 15 deadline approaching for teams to sign tagged players to a multiyear extension, those trade demands haven't changed. And with the possibility looming that Ngakoue could hold out into training camp, the Jags face a tough call: Deal Ngakoue while they can still get something, or dig in and potentially watch Ngakoue walk out the door with no compensation next spring.
It's a choice that really isn't one. Assuming Ngakoue is as serious about leaving as he has indicated, it's time for the Jags to find a dance partner and play Let's Make a Deal.
The only question that remains is with whom.
As ESPN's Jeremy Fowler tweeted, there's been no change in the impasse between player and club. Ngakoue doesn't just want a new long-term contract—he wants it with a new team.
Jeremy Fowler @JFowlerESPN
A franchise tag situation to watch approaching July 15: Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue. I’m told nothing has changed with his stance - he still desires a trade - and doesn’t have immediate plans to sign the tag. This could bleed well into training camp, absent deal with a new team.
This dates all the way back to early March. Before the Jaguars even had a chance to franchise-tag Ngakoue, he declared he was no longer interested in continuing his career in Jacksonville.
"The Jaguars are aware I no longer have interest in signing a long term contract in Jacksonville," he wrote on Twitter. "Duval, I love you and gave you guys everything I got. I'm thankful for the journey and look forward to continuing my career elsewhere."
At the end of March, when Mike Garafalo of NFL Network tweeted that the Jaguars had spoken to multiple teams but weren't about to just give him away, Ngakoue doubled down.
"Let's agree to disagree," he said . "Why hold a man from taking care of his family. It's obvious my time is up in my current situation. Let's both move on."
Frankly, Ngakoue's public stance has quite possibly hurt him more than it has helped. His talent isn't in question. Ngakoue has never posted fewer than eight sacks in a season, he has forced 14 fumbles in four seasons, and he just posted a career-best 41 total tackles.
But that talent won't come cheaply. In addition to the $20-plus million per season Ngakoue is reportedly seeking in a new contract, there's the matter of compensation for the Jaguars—compensation that is believed to have started at a first-round pick…and more.
That first-rounder lines up with what the Seattle Seahawks got for trading Frank Clark a year ago. But teams aren't going to be as willing to consider that price tag if they believe Ngakoue is hellbent on leaving Jacksonville. Why sacrifice that high of a pick when you can wait and get him for less—or even nothing?
Well, other than the $20 million, anyway.
Still, as time passes, prices drop; the Houston Texans traded Jadeveon Clowney to Seattle for a third-rounder (and two defensive players in Jacob Martin and Barkevious Mingo who combined for one start in 2019) just before the beginning of the 2019 season.
If Ngakoue's price tag falls to Day 2, then it's a whole new ballgame. And whether the Jaguars want to admit it or not, a Day 2 pick (or package highlighted by one) beats what they'll get for Ngakoue a year from now—bupkus.
Assuming Jaguars general manager David Caldwell comes to this rather depressing realization (odds are the longer he waits, the less he'll get), there are a few teams that could get the Ngakoue sweepstakes warmed back up in short order.
It's no secret that the Seattle Seahawks desperately need to upgrade their pass rush. As a team, Seattle managed just 28 sacks in 2019—tied for the fewest in the NFC. The team's top pass-rusher was end Rasheem Green, who had all of four sacks. After the Seahawks traded for Clowney last year, he remains unsigned.
On one hand, this appears to be a deal that could work for all parties. With all due respect to Clowney, Ngakoue is a much more accomplished pass-rusher. He would offer the Seahawks something they've been sorely lacking: a true high-end presence rushing the passer. Given that Seattle will more likely than not be picking outside the top 20 in 2021, the team might be more open to moving its first pick. And as much as (if not more than) any other team listed here, the Seahawks could offer Ngakoue a chance to win.
The sticking point here? The big green one. Seattle presently has just under $14 million in cap space, per Over The Cap. The Seahawks balked at Clowney's asking price this year and traded Clark rather than pay him the big money the year before. Getting Ngakoue's deal on the books would take some doing.
Of course, it was easier to be frugal before the team's pass rush fell apart and the San Francisco 49ers blew past Seattle in the NFC West.
As Dave Zangaro reported for CBS Sports Philadelphia, Ngakoue has made a number of cryptic Philadelphia Eagles references over the last couple of months. And per colleague Adam Hermann, while appearing on ESPN, Ngakoue's wish list for a new franchise sounded quite a bit like a certain team in Eastern Pennsylvania.
"I'm not really sure what team I'll be landing at, but the type of team I'd love to join is a team that has great culture. I really want to be a part of a team that has a great culture, and winning is a habit. I don't want to be part of a team where losing is a norm, or anything of that nature. I want to be part of something special. Also, I want to go to a place where the community, I can make a great impact in the community, reach out to younger people that look up to me."
The Eagles have the cap space to absorb Ngakoue's salary—Philly's sitting on the fourth-biggest war chest in the NFL (almost double what the Seahawks have at their disposal). The team also rather has a history in recent years of stockpiling talent along the defensive line.
And while the end position wouldn't appear to be a glaring need for an Eagles team that tallied 43 sacks a year ago, veteran Brandon Graham isn't getting any younger, Vinny Curry remains unsigned, and Derek Barnett has yet to live up to his first-round draft slot.
If the Eagles can make the compensation work, the fit is there.
There are other teams with cap space and the need at edge-rusher to make a Ngakoue deal work—the Miami Dolphins and both New York teams come to mind. But those teams aren't as far along rebuild row as the Cleveland Browns—at least not yet. If Ngakoue really does want his next team to be a winner (or close to it), then those squads land in the "possible, but less likely" pile.
That brings us to Cleveland.
The Browns aren't winners right now. But the roster (on paper) appears much closer to contention. Cleveland has talent on both sides of the ball, but what it doesn't have is a capable No. 2 end opposite Myles Garrett. The Browns attempted to fill the void by trading for Olivier Vernon last year, but the 29-year-old responded with arguably the worst season of his career.
It's a hole the Browns appear intent on filling, as Cleveland has been linked to a number of big-name free agents at the position this year.
That includes Ngakoue. There has been speculation that the Browns are one of the teams that kicked the tires on Ngakoue, with Field Yates of ESPN theorizing recently that a package including a Round 2 pick and young tight end David Njoku could be enough to get the deal done.
That's a package the Browns can afford to lose with Austin Hooper in town. And while the Browns have massive extensions for Garrett and quarterback Baker Mayfield looming down the road, with over $37 million in cap space as things stand today, the cash for Ngakoue is there.