JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Yannick Ngakoue watched with interest the megadeals that pass-rushers have received since free agency began in mid-March.
DeMarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark landed deals in excess of $100 million with more than $60 million guaranteed. Trey Flowers has a $56 million guarantee. Dee Ford's deal is for six years, $85.5 million and has a $33.5 million guarantee.
Ngakoue loved seeing it because he knows he’s likely next in line -- whether it’s an extension with the Jacksonville Jaguars or in free agency next March.
“That [the amount those players received] is not a secret,” Ngakoue said Tuesday after the Jaguars’ first organized team activity at the practice fields adjacent to TIAA Bank Field. “We all can go on the computer. We see what they’re getting, you know what I mean? At the end of the day, it’s a blessing to be in that position and I’m thankful.
“That money don’t mean nothing, but I know what I’m worth.”
A lot. He’s worth a lot.
Because he’s one of the NFL’s best young pass-rushers -- he just turned 24 on March 31 -- with 29.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles since he entered the league in 2016.
Because he has more sacks than Lawrence, Ford and Flowers and trails Clark by 2.5 sacks.
Because he is one of just five players to have double-digit forced fumbles, and Lawrence, Ford, Flowers and Clark aren’t among the other four.
The Jaguars know he’s worth a lot and know they’re going to have to come up with something comparable to the Lawrence and Clark deals to lock the former Maryland standout into a long-term deal. It’s not something the franchise has had to worry about in a long time because it hasn't had any of its draft picks develop into a superstar worthy of a megadeal.
Now it's got two from the same draft: Ngakoue and cornerback Jalen Ramsey, though the team can put off a Ramsey extension because of the fifth-year option. Ngakoue was a third-round pick in 2016 and his contract ends after the 2019 season, so the Jaguars either have to sign him to a long-term extension or use the franchise tag on him. That number in 2019 is $17.128 million, but it will be higher in 2020 because of the Lawrence, Flowers and Clark deals. (Ford is a linebacker.)
The franchise tag is only for one season and the team would essentially be in the same position next March: tag him or work out an extension.
The Jaguars don’t have a lot of salary-cap space this year (approximately $6 million once the rookies are all signed) or next ($5.65 million), but the team will be getting an additional $9.75 million in space if linebacker Telvin Smith does indeed sit out the 2019 season. The Jaguars are also expected to move on from defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and defensive end Calais Campbell in 2020, saving them $35 million in cap space.
There’s also the possibility of reworking some current contracts, specifically cornerback A.J. Bouye. The team can convert salary to a signing bonus, which would allow them to spread the amount over the length of the contract and create some cap space.
Plus, contracts can be structured to have a minimal cap figure early, which would likely be the way the Jaguars would go. Quarterback Nick Foles signed a four-year, $91 million contract with $50.125 million guaranteed, but his cap figure in 2019 is only $12 million.
The bottom line is that with minimal maneuvering, the Jaguars can afford to pay Ngakoue and make him the cornerstone of their defensive front for the next five to seven years. Whether that gets done before the season depends on the negotiations and how rigid Ngakoue’s camp will be about the $100 million given to pass-rushers whom he has outperformed.
Ngakoue left the Jaguars' voluntary workouts in late April and worked on his own at DBC Fitness in Miami, but he returned this week and said he plans to participate in all 10 OTAs and the mandatory minicamp. He said he’s even willing to play the 2019 season without a new deal, even though he risks losing significant money were he to be injured.
“I don’t have to be here, but I chose to be here,” Ngakoue said. “It just shows you how much I love the game and it’s why I want to be out here to help some guys out.
“I love the game and I try to go hard every day 100 percent, and that’s what I intend on doing. Just coming out here trying to get better each and every day, helping out my teammates, trying to be a captain this year.”
That’s a show of good faith by Ngakoue, who has earned a reputation as a relentless worker who is never satisfied with anything he does on the field. It’s getting to be time for the team to show how much they value his production.