O-Zone: Falling skies

JACKSONVILLE – Let’s get to it …

Trey from Jacksonville

Regarding Yannick’s contract, everyone on here simply says “pay the man.” The question, however, is how much? I read an article on ESPN mentioning crazy high numbers like $100 million. What do you think is a realistic contract we could expect the team to be willing to put together? I understand we have many salary-cap-related moves that must take place but based on other contracts out there, what do you think ends up happening?

I’ve written often in recent days that the issue with Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue’s contract is not nearly as simple as simply screaming, “Pay the man!!” That’s particularly true if speculation is correct that he’s seeking a contract in the five-year, $20-million range. That number is perceived as “market value” because other double-digit-sack pass rushers have received it recently, and I don’t doubt that’s what Ngakoue is seeking. My guess is the team is wanting to come in around $17-$18 million a year – partly because he’s not quite an All-Pro elite-level defensive end in the sense of being one of the NFL’s best two or three players at his position. What’s also tricky is seeing how this will end up because I have a difficult time seeing the team paying $20 million guaranteed, and I don’t know that Ngakoue is going to want to take less than other pass rushers who are believed to be around his level. Still, Ngakoue is a proven pass rusher, so my guess continues to be something gets done – though I waver about whether it will be before the season or closer to the end.

Steve from Section 215

Was it really necessary for Yannick to stay home? Does he think the Jags’ brass can't figure out he wants more money? Heck, if they are confused, they could read the O-Zone and see the light.

I don’t know that it was necessary for Ngakoue to skip mandatory minicamp and organized team activities because I agree with you that the Jaguars clearly knew his contract demands. I also don’t think staying away in any way accelerated the process and it in fact probably did the opposite. Still, if Ngakoue was trying to send the message that he was willing to skip mandatory work – to take it to a “different level,” if you will – I suppose you can consider the message sent.

Keith from Jacksonville and Section 436 Since 1995

Actually, "Dance, Dance, Dance" is an awesome song by 2019 Rock and Roll HOF inductee Chic back in 1978. I didn't know you had a taste of the disco scene? I thought you were more of a Dave Matthews guy.

I’m not a Dave Matthews guy, and loyal O-Zone readers – he knows who he is – may well know that I’ve rarely if ever referenced Matthews in this forum. I prefer to think of the “Dance, Dance, Dance” title in a recent O-Zone as a reference to the great Steve Miller song, “Dance, Dance, Dance.” Because my grandpa, he’s 95 … he keeps on dancin’ … he’s still alive.”

Raymo from Jacksonville

The cap this year is $188 million. Just thinking ahead ... Nick Foles @ $20 million per, Jalen Ramsey @ $20 million per, Yannick Nakoue @ 20 per... that’s a third of the cap right there! No, you just can’t pay them all. The bean counters have it cut out for them. If you had to choose one, do you take the premier corner or the premier pass rusher?

First, remember: Annual salary cap hits are rarely – if ever – as simple as dividing total contract worth by length of contract. Foles’ cap hit, for example, is $12 million next season and goes up significantly after that. That’s an example of the contract machinations teams use to be able to work players under the cap and juggle numbers to make the whole puzzle fit together. But you’re right that all three players – if paid their perceived market value – are expensive, cap-eating players. As far as your question, under normal circumstances you take the elite pass rusher over the elite cornerback. But that’s only if both players are equal. In this case, Ramsey is a generational talent at cornerback and the belief here is he’s more important to the franchise than Ngakoue. That’s not a knock on Ngakoue at all. It’s just an observation that Ramsey is a different level player than most NFL players, and my guess is his contract – and how the Jaguars approach it – will reflect that.

John from Daytona Beach, FL

Just a thought on Ngakoue: It would be stupid on his part to play the full season for his normal salary. If he does have the option of having his year count by playing only the minimum required six games, it is a no brainer. If he plays the full season for his normal pay, I would imagine the odds of a serious injury are increased tremendously by playing 16 games instead of six. No matter what by playing only six games, he increases the odds of at least getting to the franchise tag pay of $20 million, which ain’t too shabby. Or, of course, a new contract.

That’s one way to look at it. It’s also risky playing just six games because pass rushers are often judged on sacks – and because you can still get injured in six games. If Ngakoue’s aim is to hit the open market, having a six-game, four-sack season on the resume might not be a great look. I don’t know if that beats your theory, but it’s a thought.

Al from Orange Park, FL

Pondering the Yann news this week, I realized something. If he had a season-ending injury at minicamp, something like former defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.’s rookie injury, it could cost him $10 to $20 million. That's life-changing money for him and his family. And, he's probably already earned much of that while working cheap these last couple of years. I suddenly don't blame him anymore.

A season-ending injury in minicamp could have cost Ngakoue much more than that. And no, there’s no reason to blame Ngakoue for missing minicamp. This is his life, his body and his career. He has every right to hold out and do what he must do to maximize his value – just as the Jaguars have every right to fine him and not extend his contract.

Daniel from Jersey City, NJ

O-man, if the Jaguars have Ramsey under contract for the next two years, does that mean they could make him a franchise player in addition to that in the year after?

Yes.

Rob from Orange Park, FL

How’s Oliver looking? Do you see him being our main pass-catching tight end this year?

Rookie tight end Josh Oliver – a third-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft – looked very good during organized team activities and minicamp, and the Jaguars are understandably optimistic about his future. I expect him to contribute early as a rookie, get better as the season goes on and be really good by Year 2. I don’t know if that will make him the main pass-catching tight end this season, because veteran Geoff Swaim looked good in the offseason, too. I do know it appears at this early stage as if Oliver will be key to the offense next season.

Brian from Gainesville, FL

Big O, can you explain a little more about your thoughts/predictions on Ngakoue getting a new contract with the Jaguars? Your words seem to suggest at least a possibility that the team may pass. Why would they? Don’t get me wrong, I know how negotiation works. I know the team must decide if they are going to pay what Yannick wants. But why wouldn’t they? We hear constantly about how important it is to draft and develop a core. Yannick is part of the core.

I believe there is a very good chance Ngakoue re-signs with the Jaguars. I believe they believe he deserves a big raise. I believe they want him to be part of their core. I don’t think they will “pass.” But I do believe there is a point in any negotiation above which a team will not go – and I believe every team must look at how every player fits into the big picture. If the Jaguars perceive Ngakoue’s asking price – or market value – as too extreme, then it’s obviously a possibility he won’t re-sign. I don’t think it will get to that. But until an agreement is reached, it’s obviously a possibility.

Mason from Palm Beach, FL

I know this column is going to be all Jalen/Yannick/contract talk for the foreseeable future, as you can only answer questions you are dealt. However, let me add some perspective. I've been a season-ticket holder since 2012 and this is the first time players have had a right to be disgruntled about their contract. Times are better.

Yes. They are.

David from Chuluota

O - Do you know if the “Chicken Little” character was created based on NFL fans?

Yes. It was.

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