JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars' defensive ends in this position-by-position look at the '20 offseason
Position: Defensive end.
2019 starters: Yannick Ngakoue (15), Calais Campbell (13; also started three games at defensive tackle) Josh Allen (4).
Others:Dawuane Smoot, Lerentee McCray, Chuck Harris, Dewayne Hendrix.
2019 at a glance: The Jaguars' defensive ends were again the roster's strongest position, with Campbell making a third consecutive Pro Bowl appearance since signing with the team in 2017 and the rest of the unit turning in strong seasons. Campbell registered 6.5 sacks and a team-high 24 quarterback hurries, and Allen made the Pro Bowl as a rookie after registered 10.5 sacks and 22 hurries. Ngakoue registered eight sacks and 15 hurries, with Smoot registering seven sacks and six hurries.
Offseason storyline:This position figures to be a major offseason focus for multiple reasons, with the team needing to make a decision on Campbell's future – and with Ngakoue scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. The team has multiple options with Campbell, including renegotiating his contract, retaining him at his current contract or releasing him for salary-cap reasons. The team reportedly plans to place the franchise tag on Ngakoue, which will severely limit his options in free agency. If the team does place the franchise tag on Ngakoue, he would have the option to sign the tag and play for the Jaguars one-year contract worth about $19 million or not play next season. There also is the possibility a team could sign Ngakoue under the tag, but that team would have to give the Jaguars two first-round selections should the Jaguars not match the terms of Ngakoue's contract with the signing team; that's unlikely as teams typically don't want to give up such draft capital.
Free agents as of March 18: Ngakoue.
Oehser analysis: How the Jaguars handle this position is critical to the 2020 offseason, and the decisions figure to be tricky and expensive. Campbell has been the franchise's best player the past three seasons, but he's entering his 13thNFL season with a $15.25 million base salary; the team knows Campbell must play fewer snaps next season, which could make paying his full salary next season difficult to justify. Ngakoue's situation has been tricky for a year since the sides failed to agree to a long-term extension last offseason, and it got trickier this week when the four-year veteran Tweeted that he did not want to sign a long-term contract with the team. Time will tell if that message was heartfelt or a negotiating tactic, but it appears likely a long-term agreement will remain elusive – at least in the short term. The good news here for the Jaguars is that Allen as rookie showed real signs of being a long-term franchise player. The guess here is Ngakoue, Campbell and Allen all will play for the Jaguars next season in some capacity. That's a good situation that will again make the position a team strength. How they get to that position is anyone's guess.
Sexton analysis: This group is so good even if Campbell leaves for salary reasons, it's still the most talented position on the roster. Campbell to date has been worth every penny of the $45 million the Jaguars have paid him since 2017; he's a force on and off the edge, as 31.5 sacks in three seasons attests. He wasn't as big a force this past season, and a criticism regarding him in 2019 was he spent more time on the ground – an indication age is becoming a factor. For a team tight against the cap, it could make sense for the Jaguars to pass on a 34-year old – especially at a position of strength. But he is the heart and soul of the Jaguars and as good a person as they have ever had in the locker room. If they can find a compromise in terms of salary and number of snaps he plays in 2020, they absolutely should bring him back. Should that compromise elude them, Allen will step into Campbell's massive shoes. As much as his 10.5 sacks as a rookie, it was his all-around performance that has the building excited about the future. He has a knack for making the biggest of plays when the opportunity is the greatest and is strong and powerful against the run with a motor that always seems to perform at its red line. Everyone in the organization is saying all the right things about the return of Ngakoue next fall, but that figures to be a tricky negotiation, especially in light of his recent social media postings. He is an elite pass rusher with next level skills creating turnovers, but he isn't very big and isn't a guy who can put his hand on the ground and win against the run play after play. Finding a happy medium is key, but in this era of the NFL, pass rush is king and the king gets paid. Stay tuned to see how this one turns out; expect some drama before it all comes to what the Jaguars still hope is a happy ending.