JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Firing unbending taskmaster Tom Coughlin was supposed to alleviate concerns some Jacksonville Jaguars had about playing for the oft-mismanaged franchise.
It clearly didn’t work.
Standout defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said Monday he no longer wants to sign a long-term deal with the Jaguars, becoming the third Pro Bowler in less than a year to essentially give up on the team.
Linebacker Telvin Smith walked away from football in May, leaving about $10 million on the table, and star cornerback Jalen Ramsey forced a trade in October.
Ngakoue announced his desire to play elsewhere via social media, a move that could force Jacksonville to place the franchise tag on the 24-year-old disgruntled defender and trade him.
“The Jaguars are aware I no longer have interest in signing a long-term contract in Jacksonville,” Ngakoue posted on Twitter and Instagram. “Duval, I love you and gave you guys everything I got. I’m thankful for the journey and look forward to continuing my career elsewhere.”
It has to be a troubling trend for the Jaguars, who have one winning season in the past 12 years. Coughlin was considered the main problem the past three seasons, so much so that the NFL Players Association took a public swipe at the 73-year-old former coach and two-time Super Bowl winner with the New York Giants.
The NFLPA said in December that more than 25% of player grievances filed in the past two years have been against the Jaguars. The union’s take: “You as players may want to consider this when you have a chance to select your next club.”
Owner Shad Khan fired Coughlin two days later, setting off a celebration in Jacksonville’s locker room. Coughlin was the primary target of Ramsey’s angst, and his old-school ways caused issues for several others.
Ngakoue had hoped a change in leadership would lead to a new contract. But the Jaguars have been slow to negotiate, partly because they are waiting for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Ngakoue has 37 1/2 sacks and 14 forced fumbles in four seasons. The speedy strip-sack specialist made the Pro Bowl in 2017 and was an alternate the past two seasons.
A third-round draft pick from Maryland in 2016, Ngakoue clearly outplayed his $3.84 million rookie contract. He made $2.025 million in 2019 — far less than other top playmakers at his position.
Ngakoue insisted the day after the season ended that he’s “not going to play for pennies.” He had been seeking around $22 million a year to remain in Jacksonville, but the Jaguars don’t seem to consider him a complete or elite defensive end worthy of that much annually.
Jacksonville also selected Ngakoue’s potential replacement, Josh Allen from Kentucky, with the seventh overall pick in the 2019 draft. Allen had 44 tackles, 10 1/2 sacks and two forced fumbles as a rookie and made the Pro Bowl as an alternate.
Jacksonville is expected to place the franchise tag on Ngakoue, a move that would guarantee him more than $19 million in 2020. But he also could refuse to sign the tender, essentially forcing a trade.
“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,” Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell said at the NFL combine last week. “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.”
Ngakoue’s announcement should, at the very least, prompt Khan to take a deeper look at what’s happening in Jacksonville. Khan kept Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone despite public outcries for change. He agreed to play consecutive games in London, irking at least part of the fan base, and raised eyebrows when he said he didn’t expect playing 10 games away from home to be a competitive disadvantage.
The front office overpaid for quarterback Nick Foles, the latest in a long line of blunders at the all-important position, and made mistake after mistake while continually rebuilding the roster.
Trading Ngakoue might be the next decision and would leave the Jaguars with few pieces remaining from their dynamic defense that carried them to the AFC championship game in January 2018. It also would create even more questions about the direction of the franchise.