Will Jaguars keep Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell? GM weighs in

Defensive ends are two of the biggest decisions for Jags’ brass in offseason

Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) (Charlie Neibergall, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Will the Jaguars keep Yannick Ngakoue on the roster? Can they afford to keep Calais Campbell?

Those two major offseason questions were posed to general manager Dave Caldwell Tuesday at the NFL’s scouting combine in Indianapolis. Caldwell stopped short of making any definitive statement but said that the team wants to find a way to keep Ngakoue a part of the organization.

“The best thing we can do as an organization is when we have news for you on that is to let you know,” Caldwell said. “There is a process that needs to be played. 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. I’ll leave it at that.”

One way the Jaguars can keep Ngakoue is to sign him to a new contract. There are two potential obstacles to a new deal: Ngakoue’s perception of his market value and the Jaguars salary cap space.

There are reports that Ngakoue wants $22 million per season for his new contract. That would make Ngakoue the highest-paid defensive end in the leave, topping the contracts of the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence and the Chiefs Frank Clark, who both signed deals worth over $20 million per season last year. Is Ngakoue worth that much?

Since he entered the league in 2016, Ngakoue has 37.5 sacks. In the same time span, Lawrence has 31 sacks and Clark has 40 sacks. So Ngakoue is in the neighborhood in that key category. He’s also 24 years old. Lawrence is 27 and Clark is 26.

As for Campbell, who saw his sack total drop from a career-high 14.5 in 2017 to 10.5 in 2018 to 6.5 last season, the salary cap is a big determiner for his future with the team. Campbell is set to cost the Jaguars $17.5 on the cap in 2020. In a perfect scenario, the Jaguars would love to keep Campbell around, but it’s a balancing act with the salary ledger for the team.

“We love Calais. He’s a tremendous player. A tremendous leader,” Caldwell said. “You saw what he did with the Walter Payton (Man of the Year) Award, recognized amongst the lead as one of the leaders not just of our team but of the NFL. We think he still has a lot of football ahead of him. A lot of these pieces are fluid. If we add a piece or delete a piece, a lot of those decisions will be made dependent on what we do in free agency and the draft.”

That sounds like a man who is trying to figure out how to keep key players around while still being constrained by the salary cap. That’s not a comfortable position to be in when you are battling to keep your job. Campbell’s locker room presence is worth something. And it must be pointed out that his sack numbers were lower because the Jaguars were forced to use him inside more often in 2019 after the injury to Marcell Dareus and the slow development of Taven Bryan at defensive tackle.

Campbell can still be a significant contributor, but using up nearly eight percent of your salary cap space on one aging player who doesn’t appear likely to be dominant for 16 games is a risk.

Other notes from the combine:

-Caldwell confirmed that the Jaguars are not going to pick up the option on Dareus’ contract, but said that the Jaguars are interested in potentially bringing him back at some point.

-Caldwell also said that they are exploring all options with regard to A.J. Bouye, who has been talked about being a potential salary cap casualty. “A.J. had a nice year last year. He has a lot of football left in him. Another player we like as a person and as a guy.”

-Caldwell believes that after going through the offseason, the Jaguars will be better in 2020, even if the end product of the offseason moves is murky right now. “This is a win-now league. When we arrived seven years ago, we knew we had our work cut out for us. We still have our work cut out for us," Caldwell said. "We feel like come September, regardless of what happens and who’s on this team, we’ll feel like we’re a more improved team.”

About the Author:

Cole joined News4Jax full-time in January 2017, but he has been a part of the team since he began filling in as a sports anchor in 2005.