NFL

Can the Jaguars Afford to Keep Yannick Ngakoue Around?

The Jacksonville Jaguars are at a crucial turning point. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue is the crown jewel of general manager Dave Caldwell’s career. After Caldwell made the canny choice to pick Ngakoue 69th in the third round of the 2016 draft, the edge rusher broke out as a star.

That move is likely why Caldwell was able to re-sign with the Jags after their mediocre 2019 run sputtered to an end. Head coach Doug Marrone kept his job, too. The leadership staying mostly static for this 6-10 team makes it even more pressing that Ngakoue stays in Jacksonville. But is it even possible to work out a deal?

The key positions the Jaguars need to fill

The Jags have two first-round picks to play with. They’ll go ninth thanks to their poor finish in 2019, and 20th from the Jalen Ramsey trade.

Potentially, improvement could be needed at wide receiver. Pro Bowler DJ Chark is trending up, with over 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns to his name. But if the expectations are to pivot to a winning season immediately, his development isn’t quite there.

Weakness at safety was chronic in 2019, and needs to be shored up immediately. The Jags are cornered at this position, with both starter Jarrod Wilson and Ronnie Harrison well behind the curve at their position.

The indispensable players the Jaguars can’t afford to lose

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FRESH.

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With so many problems to address on both sides of the ball, it’ll be tough to open up space to pay Yannick Ngakoue. The situation looks even worse when considering the list of players the Jags likely can’t live without.

The Arizona Cardinals made a huge mistake when they let Calais Campbell walk. Jacksonville should not mirror that mistake. Campbell and Ngakoue were the bright spots on a struggling roster.

Offensive tackle Cam Robinson is another indispensable piece. Robinson, now recovered from the knee injury that hobbled his play in 2019, will only get better.

And cornerback A.J. Bouye — already the subject of trade interest — is crucial to Jacksonville’s offense. His 65 tackles across last year make a strong case to keep him around.

How negotiations are progressing with Yannick Ngakoue

During the 2019 season, Ngakoue was skeptical of the Jaguars’ intentions to pay him his true market value. Now that the GM who drafted him isn’t leaving, the tone around trade talks is rapidly changing.

Caldwell confirmed to the press that his number one priority was to keep Ngakoue on board.

“He is a tremendous player. He is even a better person,” Caldwell said at the press conference following his new contract. “How he handled his business this year was tremendous.”

But for his part, Ngakoue remains coy.

Should Jaguars fans keep their hopes up regarding Yannick Ngakoue?

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Evidence of a divine presence.

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Ngakoue is keenly aware of his value as a free agent. He isn’t shy about saying it publicly, whether in the media or on his personal social media accounts.

Ngakoue has the second-most sacks through four seasons of any Jaguar, at 37.5. He has 14 career forced fumbles. Most importantly, he’s stayed healthy for almost that entire time.

Matters aren’t helped by pre-existing tensions between Ngakoue and the Jags organization. Insulted by a low ball offer in summer 2019, he held out of training camp for 11 days.

It all comes down to the offer. If it isn’t competitive, Ngakoue will walk. Jacksonville fans shouldn’t write off Ngakoue’s return. But the extra leverage of a good relationship with the front office, or any particular affection for the city? That simply isn’t there for the time being.