Caldwell on Ngakoue: "We want him here…"

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – He spoke with urgency, as expected.

"This is a win-now league, obviously," David Caldwell said. "We want to win this year, and we'll do the things necessary to put the best team on the field."

This was Tuesday morning. Caldwell, entering his eighth season as the Jaguars' general manager, was speaking at his annual NFL Scouting Combine press conference. As is the norm for a GM at the combine, the availability touched on what lays ahead in the coming weeks – and thoughts on the year ahead.

"All options are on the table," Caldwell said. "We feel like come September, regardless of what happens and who's on this team, we'll feel like a new and improved team."

Caldwell in the coming weeks faces one of the heavier lifts of his Jaguars tenure – the process of preparing the Jaguars' roster and salary cap for the free-agency period that begins with the March 18 start of the 2020 NFL League Year.

The Jaguars began the process this week with the decision to not pick up the option of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, a move Caldwell confirmed Tuesday and one that gives the team significant salary-cap relief. Caldwell on Tuesday discussed that decision, also discussing the contracts of high-profile veterans such as defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue and cornerback A.J. Bouye.

"A lot of the pieces are fluid," Caldwell said.

Caldwell, speaking first at a podium and later to Jacksonville media, discussed several of those pieces Tuesday – perhaps most notably, Ngakoue.

Ngakoue, a third-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 18, and Caldwell declined to discuss recent speculation about the 2017 Pro Bowl defensive end's future in Jacksonville.

If the sides can't agree to a long-term contract, the Jaguars have the option of using the franchise tag on Ngakoue – a move that restricts player movement in free agency with the player playing on a one-year contract with a salary based on the average of the highest-paid players in the NFL at his position.

The NFL's "franchise-tag window" opens Thursday and closes March 12 this year.

"There's still a process that needs to be played [out]," Caldwell said. "I think you guys know how we feel about him. We want him here. We're going to try to get him here and keep him here one way or another."

Caldwell said that approach was best "for all parties involved – and for Yannick's sake."

"I think all options are on the table," Caldwell said. "We've got to work through the process with him and see where we are."

Caldwell on Tuesday also discussed:

*Dareus. Caldwell, while confirming reports that the team had declined to pick up Dareus' option for 2020, also said: "He's still a guy that we have interested in being back at some point in time. We'll see what his mindset is and where he is from salary demands and stuff like that."

*Campbell. Campbell, a Pro Bowl selection in all three seasons since he signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in 2017, has a year remaining on his contract at a $15 million base salary. The team could get $15 million in salary cap relief by releasing Campbell. "We love Calais," Caldwell said. "He's a tremendous player, a tremendous leader. He's recognized amongst the league as one of the leaders not only on our team but of the NFL. We feel like has a lot of football ahead of him. … We're in the business of having good football players, so we'd like to have Calais."

*Bouye. Bouye, veteran cornerback who made the Pro Bowl in 2017 – his first season with the team –has a $13 million base salary in 2020 and the team could save nearly $11.5 million by releasing him. "Those are things we're discussing with Coach Wash (defensive coordinator Todd Wash)," Caldwell said. "A.J. had a nice year last year. We'll explore all options with him. He still has a lot of football left in him – and again, another player we really like here as a person and as a guy. Obviously, you guys know the salary restrictions. Realistically, it's not as bad when you put him in line with the rest of the players in the league." Added Caldwell, "AJ is definitely an asset for us."

Caldwell called all three players – Ngakoue, Campbell and Bouye – "tremendous competitors" and "tremendous leaders," and discussed the need for younger Jaguars players to take their place should they not return next season.

"If we do happen to not have one of them, or two of them, or three of them we have to replace them somehow," Caldwell said. "We have some young guys we think can step up. … If you're a good player and you produce, you have the ability to be a good leader."

Caldwell on Tuesday also discussed running back Leonard Fournette, who will enter his fourth NFL season next season. Because Fournette was a first-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, the team has the option on his rookie contract for a fifth season in 2021. The team must decide this offseason whether to pick up that option, something Caldwell said will be done at a later date.

"Our reason right now is we have free agency, then we have the draft, then we have the future and fifth-year option – and any extensions and stuff like that," Caldwell said. "One step at a time for us right now – and that's free agency."

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