A long-term deal would be ideal, but a shorter contract might be an option they explore. And there’s also the franchise tag, which would guarantee Ngakoue $19.3 million in 2020 and buy the team some additional time to get a deal done.
It might be a while before there’s any resolution to a stalemate that began last offseason, however.
“There’s still a process that needs to be played, but I think you guys know how we feel about him, and we want him here,” general manager Dave Caldwell said. “We’re going to try to get him here and keep him here one way or another. So I think I’ll leave it at that.”
Caldwell said he didn’t want to discuss whether there had been any progress in negotiations or whether the team would use the franchise tag before the March 12 deadline, because he doesn’t want to negotiate in public. But it’s clear that the team has no intention of just allowing Ngakoue to hit free agency and leave without any compensation.
Caldwell has been publicly effusive in his praise for Ngakoue and how the team views him as a critical piece moving forward. That’s the first step in Caldwell trying to repair the relationship between Ngakoue and the team after last July’s contentious negotiations with then-executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin.
Ngakoue wanted a deal similar to the mega-contracts that pass-rushers DeMarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark signed in the offseason. Both deals are worth more than $100 million, with Lawrence receiving $65 million guaranteed from the Cowboys and Clark getting $62.3 million from the Chiefs. Lawrence’s annual salary of $21 million is third among defensive players behind only Bears linebacker Khalil Mack ($23.5 million) and Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald ($22.5 million). Clark ($20.8 million) is fourth.
Since he entered the league in 2016, Ngakoue has 37.5 sacks -- 2.5 fewer than Clark and 6.5 more than Lawrence over that same four-year span. Ngakoue’s 14 forced fumbles are more than all but three players (the Cardinals' Chandler Jones, Mack and the Steelers' T.J. Watt) since 2016.
He will make a lot more in 2020 than he did in 2019. With no agreement on a new deal, Ngakoue played last season for $2.02 million, after skipping mandatory minicamp and an 11-day training camp holdout cost him $528,650. He was slowed by a hamstring injury early in the season but still had eight sacks and four forced fumbles to go along with a career-high 41 tackles despite missing one game.
Ngakoue is already second in franchise history with 37.5 sacks (Tony Brackens is first with 55), and if he keeps up his current pace, he’d tie Brackens in the 14th game of the 2021 season. That would be 93 career games, 14 fewer than it took Brackens to reach 55.
Ngakoue has indicated he likely would stage another holdout if he were forced to play under the franchise tag in 2020. Marrone is certain he will get a great effort from Ngakoue even if he isn't happy about his contract.
“I’ve never seen anyone that I believe handle a situation better than he has,” coach Doug Marrone said. “Meaning, that you’re going in and there’s negotiations and there’s contract [issues] but for me as the coach -- and this is what I love about Yann, and this is why I love him so much: It never affected how he practiced or how he performed or what he did or how he reacted. He never brought that into the locker room.
“As a coach, I have so much respect for that and what he did. So from my standpoint as a coach, yes, you want to see it get done. You want to see that. You want to see him rewarded, but at the end the business part comes in -- but, hey, I love him. There’s no doubt where I stand or any of us as coaches stand with him.”