One year ago, things were not yet where they are now for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Yannick Ngakoue.
The eventual animosity toward the franchise from the coaching staff's and front office's beloved veteran pass-rusher would begin to arise as a result of broken down contract negotiations, which has led the two sides to where they are today.
In 2019, not signing Ngakoue to a long-term deal before the season looked like a misstep that could be fixed. In 2020, it is looking more and more every day like a missed opportunity, in part due to the deals other edge rushers are now receiving.
In recent weeks, two of the NFL's best pass-rushers have received giant contracts from the teams who drafted them. The Cleveland Browns signed 2017 No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett to a five-year, $125 million deal with $100 million guaranteed earlier this month. And on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Chargers inked star edge defender Joey Bosa to a record-breaking five-year, $135 million extension with $102 million in guarantees.
Ngakoue was never going to get a deal to the level of either of those players, as much as he will likely continue to push for one whenever he is on the open market. As good of a pass-rusher as Ngakoue is, Bosa and Garrett are top-tier players in the league and among the best the NFL has to offer when it comes to defenders in general. Ngakoue is terrific and has had flashes of elite ability, but his production doesn't yet match the other two.
But the fact of the matter is, edge rushers will always get thrown a large deal in most situations. If the Jaguars are not or were not ever going to pay Ngakoue the big-money deal he was seeking, somebody would have. That team could have been the Jaguars last offseason, and in doing so his deal today would likely look like one of the largest bargains in the league.
Instead, Ngakoue played his final year on his rookie deal and set his sights on leaving Jacksonville as soon as his contractual obligations were up. While signing Ngakoue would have looked like a massive move last summer, it can be presumed that the Jaguars' deal with Ngakoue dwarf in comparison to the deals Bosa and Garrett got this month.
It is unclear what the Jaguars' offer was to Ngakoue before contract talks broke down last summer. NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported the Jaguars offered the 2016 third-round pick a short-term deal with over $50 million in guarantees over the first two years and worth $19 million per year, but it is unclear what official offers Ngakoue has received in the past.
Regardless, talks broke down completely between the two sides, with Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer reporting in December that former Jaguars executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin was the driving force behind the negotiation's failures.
"Just before training camp last summer, Coughlin declared that the Jags had made their final and best offer to pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue. The problem? It was late July, and negotiations were still in the early stages, having only started earlier that month. And the comments sufficiently angered Ngakoue, who was planning on reporting to training camp, to the point where he launched a training camp holdout instead. And this was a player that the team wanted to sign," Breer wrote.
"What happened between me and Jacksonville is very simple. The organization had an opportunity to keep me long term last offseason, things kind of broke off," Ngakoue said on ESPN's NFL Live with Adam Schefter in April.
"So, you know, everything happens for a reason and not everything lasts forever," Ngakoue said. "Things come to an end and it's time for me to move on to the next chapter of my career. And I am forever thankful for what Jacksonville has brought to me and my family, but it is time to move on."
Since the contract talks broke down, Ngakoue has launched an incredibly public campaign to force an exit out of Jacksonville, the Jaguars have placed the franchise tag tender on him (which he has yet to sign), and the Jaguars ultimately drafted K'Lavon Chaisson at No. 20 overall in part because of the uncertainty surrounding Ngakoue.
But if the Jaguars, specifically Coughlin, had been able to come to an agreement with Ngakoue in 2019, they'd be set up even better for the future than they are today. They'd likely still be in good standing with the cap considering the amount of space have set aside for Ngakoue in 2020, and the amount of cap space they are set to have in future years in general, and the team would have signed a player who epitomized everything they look for on and off the field.
They would have signed a young, talented pass-rusher with no injury history or off-field issues to a deal that would have looked large at the time but would have turned into a bargain just a year later. They would have paired him with 2019 No. 7 overall pick Josh Allen for the long haul, which should be a bittersweet sentiment considering the Jaguars saw just how impactful Allen and Ngakoue are as a duo last season.
The Jaguars could very well still have an incredibly athletic and playmaking edge rushing duo moving forward with Allen and Chaisson, but it is hard to argue against the sure thing in Ngakoue. Jacksonville could also see Ngakoue sign his tender and report to the team for the 2020 season, but so far the animosity from Ngakoue toward the Jaguars has risen to a point where it is hard to see an amicable ending, even if the Jaguars still want Ngakoue on the roster from their point of view.
"Truth be told, we exercised the franchise tender. We weren’t able to get a trade. Actually, weren’t even really able to get an offer. So, I think his options are very limited at this point in time," general manager Dave Caldwell said following the first round of April's NFL Draft.
"We’ll welcome him back with open arms when he’s ready to come back and we look forward to it. Yann, for the people on this call and who have been around him realize he is a tremendous player, tremendous person, has always been first-class in everything he’s done here in the locker room and through his time here, the first four years of his contract. Obviously, he feels things have not gone the way he wanted and, in some aspects, he may have a point. But we put our best foot forward not once, but twice. I hope he sees the light that Jacksonville is a good spot and it could, at the end of the day, be his only option.”
A year ago, the Jaguars could have signed Ngakoue to a deal that would lavish to most but, in just a year's time, would have looked like a prudent business move by Jacksonville thanks to massive deals paid out elsewhere.
With that said, it should be noted that the sins of the Coughlin-led front office should not necessarily be placed at the feet of those currently making the decisions in Jacksonville, even if most of the same faces remain. Coughlin was the man running the show during his time in Jacksonville, and any move that was or wasn't made should ultimately fall on his shoulders.
There can be countless arguments made about Ngakoue's stance toward the team and his unwillingness to meet them halfway throughout the offseason, but the truth remains that not signing Ngakoue last year looks like a missed opportunity today.