On paper, it’s easy to look at sports as a meritocracy. If you play well, you’ll get a big contract; if you struggle, you’ll crash out of the league. In reality, though, the business side of things isn’t always fair. Just ask Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue about his current contractual situation.
During his first four years in the NFL, Ngakoue has earned less than $5 million. His current anger isn’t about salary, though; he’s after something more important than money.
Yannick Ngakoue NFL career
After establishing himself as a promising prospect in Washington, D.C., Yannick Ngakoue played his college football at the University of Maryland. He started his Terrapins career as a linebacker, but later shifted to the defensive line; that move paid dividends as Ngakoue racked up 13 sacks in his junior season.
On the back of that campaign, Ngakoue entered the 2016 NFL draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars snagged him in the third round; the move turned out to be a shrewd selection. While the club struggled, the rookie lineman was a rare bright spot; he finished the season with 20 solo tackles and eight sacks.
When the 2017 campaign started, Ngakoue took his game to the next level. As part of a “Sacksonville” defense, the end terrorized opposing quarterbacks; he recorded 12 sacks and forced six fumbles as the Jaguars surged into the playoffs.
Although things came back to earth after that season, Yannick Ngakoue has remained a consistent threat on the defensive line. In 2018, he piled up 9.5 sacks and 25 solo tackles; he followed that up with a career-high 36 solo tackles in 2019.
The current contractual standoff
During his first four seasons in the NFL, Yannick Ngakoue has recorded 105 solo tackles and 37.5 sacks. Despite that production, he’s only earned $4.6 million; unfortunately, that’s the reality of playing on your rookie contract.
Before the 2019 NFL season ever began, however, the Jaguars tried to ink their defensive end to a new long-term contract. Things barely got off the ground, though. Tom Coughlin, who was calling the shots at the time, tried to play hardball with Ngakoue; that resulted in a brief holdout and, ultimately, led to the current mess in Jacksonville.
This offseason, the Jaguars franchise-tagged Ngakoue, despite his desire to leave town. While the club is apparently trying to move the lineman, no one is happy with the situation. Ngakoue recently lashed out on Twitter, calling Tony Kahn a clown, among other things. Kahn, who’s the son of the team owner and serves as senior vice president of football administration and technology, responded by saying the team needed proper compensation to trade the player and that his social media presence was just driving his value down.
Yannick Ngakoue is after something more than money
If Yannick Ngakoue signed the Jaguar’s franchise tag, his salary would jump up from $2 million to nearly $18 million. While that would be a sizeable—and well-deserved—raise, the defensive end’s dispute isn’t solely about money.
While most sports fans rarely question the realities of drafts and free agency, they can be pretty uncomfortable to think about. Imagine that, after graduating from college, you were assigned an employer rather than choosing your job. That’s what happens in the draft. The franchise tag, however, takes things even further, forcing players to stick with their current team, even if they’re contractually entitled to be a free agent.
It’s easy to think of NFL players as superheroes or gladiators, fighting for our entertainment, but they’re real people without their own thoughts and desires. Yannick Ngakoue has been a good employee for the Jacksonville Jaguars and fulfilled the terms of his contract. Now, he wants the ability to control his own destiny.