JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Unless a trade gets done, Yannick Ngakoue has a change or heart or the Jacksonville Jaguars make him an offer he can’t refuse, the defensive end will have to wait until 2021 to get a long-term deal.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Wednesday morning that Ngakoue has had contract discussions with other teams to help facilitate a trade, but the holdup is the team’s unwillingness to part with him. There were pre-draft rumors of a trade, but general manager Dave Caldwell said no team made an offer, which could partly be due to the fact that the team wanted a first-round pick as part of the deal.
The deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign a long-term contract extension is 4 p.m. ET Wednesday. If Ngakoue doesn’t sign an extension by then, he’ll have to play out the 2020 season for the franchise-tag number of $17.8 million, whether that’s with the Jaguars or another team.
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The Jaguars still could work out a deal with a team after Wednesday’s deadline, but any team that trades for Ngakoue, 25, could use the franchise tag on him for 2021 as well, which would put him in essentially the same spot he is in this year if both sides couldn’t agree on a long-term deal.
This could potentially play out the way it did for linebacker/defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and the Houston Texans last season, and that strategy hurt both the team and the player.
Houston used the franchise tag on Clowney in 2019, but he didn’t want to sign the one-year deal with the Texans, and he held out of training camp. On Aug. 31, the Texans traded Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks for linebackers Barkevious Mingo and Jacob Martin and a third-round pick. Mingo signed with the Chicago Bears in April, and Martin remains with the Texans as a reserve linebacker. The Texans also had to pay $7 million of Clowney’s $15 million salary.
That trade happened after the deadline for a long-term deal, and the Seahawks agreed not to use the franchise tag on Clowney in 2020, essentially renting him for a season.
Clowney is still looking for a team for the 2020 campaign. He was not signed in free agency after his reported asking price was $20 million annually. He has since lowered that demand, and Clowney said in June that he had a plan in place and would sign with a team before training camp begins.
A similar trade is a less likely scenario for Ngakoue, because what the Seahawks gave up for Clowney — who has 32 sacks in six seasons — would likely not be nearly good enough for the Jaguars to part with Ngakoue, who has 37.5 sacks in four seasons.
So Ngakoue has a tough choice if he isn’t traded and agrees to a long-term contract by the deadline: He could swallow his pride and play this season for the Jaguars under the franchise tag. Or he could sit out and leave nearly $18 million on the table. It would be a surprise if Ngakoue did sit out — especially with the uncertainty of the season due to the coronavirus pandemic — but there’s another recent precedent of a player who did.
Running back Le’Veon Bell sat out the 2018 season and left $14.5 million on the table after the Pittsburgh Steelers used the franchise tag on him. However, that was the second consecutive year the Steelers had tagged Bell, who wanted a long-term deal and got one in 2019 with the New York Jets.
If Ngakoue were to sit out, he would join Bell and defensive tackles Sean Gilbert (1997) and Dan Williams (1998) as players who sat out a year because they didn’t sign their tag by the season opener, per ESPN Stats & Information research.
The Ngakoue-Jaguars saga has been playing out for nearly 10 months. It started last July, when executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin abruptly broke off negotiations with Ngakoue and his agent, Ari Nissim. The Jaguars reportedly offered Ngakoue a deal that would pay him $19 million annually, but Ngakoue turned it down, and he played last season — after an 11-day training camp holdout — for $2.025 million, a considerable bargain for a player who had 29.5 sacks in three seasons.
Hours before the deadline, it appears there’s at least some movement — but it might be too late.