With the start of training camp now exactly one week away, rumors and conjecture surrounding potential player holdouts around the NFL have been swirling.
One player whose name has come up consistently in holdout talks nationwide is Jaguars' defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.
There's no question that Yannick Ngakoue has outperformed his third round slotted rookie deal. Ngakoue leads his 2016 draft class in career sacks with 29.5. He's an absolute terror off the edge and regularly makes splash plays in run defense. Heck, in 2018 Yan led the entire NFL in QB hits.
Ngakoue and his agent, Ari Nissim, rightfully believe it's time for the star defensive end to get his payday. You'd be hardpressed to offer a valid reason why the Jaguars shouldn't pay the self-motivated pass-rush specialist. Ngakoue and his agents' shared belief that a new contract should be offered led the defensive end to skip mandatory minicamp in June.
Despite all this, it's become evident to me that it would NOT be in Yannick Ngakoue's best interest to commence with a lengthy holdout this summer. Here are four reasons why:
1. He can't become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 unless he reports to training camp by August 5th.
That's right. If Ngakoue fails to report to training camp on or before August 5th, he will, by rule, not be able to accrue his fourth year in the league. Players are not able to become unrestricted free agents following the end of their rookie deal unless they have accrued four seasons in the NFL. That means that upon the expiration of Ngakoue's contract, he would then become a restricted free agent in 2020.
Restricted free agency is generally not the path to a massive payday. If Ngakoue becomes a restricted free agent, the Jaguars would then be able to place a first, second, or third round tender on him. That means that the Jaguars would be owed a first, second, or third-round (depending on which tender they place on him) pick by whichever teams signs Ngakoue. The Jaguars would also have the right to match any deal offered to the 24-year-old defensive end. Essentially, the Jaguars would control his market next year. It's highly unlikely that a potential suitor would be willing to give up draft capital in the form or a first or second-round pick AND offer a substantial deal.
2. The Jaguars can fine the crap out of him if he doesn't show up.
Every day that Yannick Ngakoue holds out of training camp, the Jaguars can fine him up to $40,000. With training camp scheduled to run 35 plus days, Ngakoue could be looking at fines in excess of $1.4 million. For many star players around the league, that amount of cash wouldn't be a major issue, but in Ngakoue's case, it just might be. You see, Ngakoue has only earned $2.646 million in his career so far, and in 2019 he's scheduled to make just over $2 million. If he holds out beyond training camp, Yan could lose his entire 2019 base salary. The salary he stands to gain by not holding out this year would nearly double his career earnings. It might be easy for some players to pass up on that kind of cash, but for a guy who's only collected $2.6 million in three years that could be a difficult proposition.
Some may point to the case of Aaron Donald in 2017, when he held out two weeks into the regular season looking for a fat new contract. His holdout ultimately led to a record setting deal. But Donald's situation and Ngakoue's are far from the same. As a former first round pick Donald had already cashed in over $10 million in his career prior to his holdout. That's nearly $8 million more than Ngakoue has made thus far. With Ngakoue's lack of money already earned, risking his 2019 salary would be a much more daring move.
3. The most natural path to a massive payday is a big 2019 season.
Ngakoue stands to make the most money on his next deal by playing in 2019. Another season in which he records double-digit sacks and terrorizes opposing offensive lineman and quarterbacks would set Ngakoue up to get a market-setting deal in 2020, whether that be in Jacksonville or elsewhere. Sure, he's taking a risk every time he sets foot on the field, but there's no question that another season of big-time production would lead to his most substantial payday. Plus, even if he suffers a season-ending injury — assuming it's not career-threatening — Ngakoue will have plenty of suitors. A similar situation happened not long ago with wide receiver Allen Robinson. In the final year of his rookie deal with Jaguars, Robinson tore his ACL in week one. Still, A-Rob inked a deal worth $14 million annually as an unrestricted free agent following the season in which he tore his ACL. You get the picture.
4. He wants to play football.
Make no mistake about it, Ngakoue loves to play football. He oozes passion for the game. One peek at his twitter feed, and you'll see a man who is constantly on the grind.
Earlier this spring, before his minicamp hold out, Ngakoue met with the media. When asked point-blank if he would play this year even without a new contract, this is the response Ngakoue offered: "Of course I'm gonna play, I love the game. I'm in God's hands at the end of the day. I've been playing this game my whole life, and that's what I'm here to do."
Yannick also desires to be a leader.
"It's important (being a leader) because I love the game and I try to go hard every day 100 percent, and that's what I intend on doing. Just coming out here and trying to get better every day and helping out my teammates. Trying to be a captain this year."
Showing up for camp would go a long way towards that.
With all this said, you might think I'm on the side of the team in these contract negotiations. That couldn't be further from the truth. I believe the Jaguars' brass should throw the bank at Ngakoue. He's done everything right — on and off the field — since arriving in Jacksonville in 2016. He plays a premium position and knows how to get the QB on the ground. My point is simply that because of the way the current collective bargaining agreement works, a lengthy hold out by Yannick Ngakoue would not be in his best interest.
Let's hope the two sides can get a deal done soon and make this entire piece a moot point.
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