View from the O-Zone: “I chose to be here”

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (91)is seen during OTA practice, Tuesday, May. 21, 2019 in Jacksonville, Fla. (Logan Bowles via AP)
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (91)is seen during OTA practice, Tuesday, May. 21, 2019 in Jacksonville, Fla. (Logan Bowles via AP)

JACKSONVILLE – He’s back.

And he’s here on his terms – for his reasons.

“I don’t have to be here, but I chose to be here,” Yannick Ngakoue said Tuesday.

Ngakoue is the Jaguars’ fourth-year Pro Bowl defensive end. His absence from the Jaguars’ offseason workout program in recent weeks has been a big story, and his return on Day 1 of 2019 organized team activities Tuesday was an even bigger story.

Offseason NFL work is voluntary, which means – as Ngakoue pointed out – he didn’t have to be here in recent weeks. He didn’t have to be here Tuesday, either, and doesn’t have to be here until a three-day mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

“It shows how much I love the game,” he said of his presence at OTA Day 1 practice Tuesday at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex.

Ngakoue on Tuesday also showed something else:

An ability to deftly handle the big issue around him, and one of the bigger issues currently around the team – i.e., the fact that he is currently entering the final year of his rookie contract.

More specifically, the 2017 Pro Bowl defensive end has yet to receive a second contract and the accompanying riches, respect and financial security.

Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone, as expected, declined to get into specifics on the issue Tuesday.

“When it comes down to contracts, I have never ever been involved,” Marrone said. “From my standpoint, someone will say, ‘Hey, do you like this player? Do you want him back?’ It’s usually a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ Once it goes to the other side – the contractual stuff – that is something for [General Manager] Dave [Caldwell] and [Executive Vice President of Football Operations] Tom [Coughlin].

“I really stay out of that because it’s a tough situation for a coach.”

Ngakoue also declined to get into specifics, but did an admirable job discussing the issue without really sounding all that irritated.

“My production speaks for itself, at the end of the day,” Ngakoue said. “That’s really a question for the front office. I can’t control it. I can just control me getting better each and every day.”

Because the topic is a major one around the Jaguars, the media approached it in multiple ways. Ngakoue was asked if he had had assurances from the front office that a contract would get done.

“I’m not aware of anything right now,” he said. “I’m just waiting right now.”

He also was asked if he had kept a close eye on the NFL’s defensive end market this offseason, which has included players such as DeMarcus Lawrence of Dallas and Frank Clark of Kansas City signing extensions worth over $20 million per season.

“That’s not a secret,” Ngakoue said, smiling. “We all can go on the computer and see what they’re getting. At the end of the day, it’s a blessing to be in that position. I’m thankful.”

Ngakoue was asked if he thought about that number … $100 million.

“Money don’t mean nothing,” Ngakoue said, adding, “but I know what I’m worth.”

“What do you think you’re worth?” he was asked.

“What do you think I’m worth?” Ngakoue answered with a smile.

“A lot,” came the reply.

Ngakoue laughed. “I appreciate it,” he said.

Ngakoue on a more serious note said he plans to attend the rest of 2019 OTAs, saying that he took limited repetitions on Tuesday – his first work with the team in more than a month – as a way of being smart. He also said he plans to play next season whatever his contract status.

“Of course, I’m going to play,” he said. “I’m in God’s hands, at the end of the day. I’ve been playing this game my whole life. That’s what I’m here to do.”

To watch Ngakoue in his three seasons with the Jaguars is to have little doubt that that’s true. A third-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, Ngakoue has turned himself into a big-time pass rusher with a rare combination of desire, focus, effort and singleness of approach. His love for the game is apparent with each snap. He has shown that in each of his three seasons, and it has served him well.

Ngakoue at some point certainly will receive the big contract he has earned with 29.5 sacks in his first three seasons. The guess here is that that contract will come from the Jaguars, though the contract’s size and precise date remains anyone’s guess.

Such contracts rarely get done easily, and this one likely won’t, either.

But Ngakoue showed Tuesday that he should be able to handle the situation with deftness until it’s resolved. And that’s a good sign for him and the Jaguars moving forward.

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