JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Yannick Ngakoue’s bet on himself appears to be paying off.
The Jacksonville Jaguars' defensive end got off to a slow start this season because of a hamstring injury but has played some of the best football of his career the past two months and has presented a compelling argument that he should be part of the franchise’s long-term plans.
“I can tell the growth of my game, how far God has brought me to this point, so I’m just at that point now where I’ve got to continue to play like that so I can capture the eyes of the people that need to see,” Ngakoue said. “I still don’t feel like I’m getting the recognition I deserve in this league, so just got to continue to be steadfast with it.”
Ngakoue had one of the best games of his career in the Jaguars' victory on Dec. 15 at Oakland: two sacks, four tackles for loss and one pass breakup in the Jaguars’ 20-16 victory. He’s up to eight sacks this season -- including six in the past eight games -- and has moved into second place on the franchise’s all-time sack list (37.5).
If he keeps up his average of 10 sacks per season, he’ll surpass the Jaguars’ all-time sack leader, Tony Brackens (55), during the 2021 season. Brackens reached that number in eight seasons. Ngakoue could reach it in six.
Almost a third of Ngakoue’s sacks have resulted in fumbles, too. He has 13, which ties him with defensive tackle Aaron Donald for third in the NFL since the 2016 season began. Only Khalil Mack (17), Chandler Jones (15) and T.J. Watt (14) have more in that span.
The biggest criticism about the 6-foot-2, 246-pound Ngakoue is that he doesn’t play the run well, but defensive coordinator Todd Wash said that isn't true. Ngakoue is significantly better at defending the run now than he was when he arrived as a rookie in 2016. This season, he has set a career high with 40 tackles and tied his career high with 13 tackles for loss.
“I think he’s really stepped it up in the run game,” Wash said. “That was a big thing that we stressed to him when he got here in training camp.”
Despite those stats and the big plays, there’s still no guarantee that Ngakoue will remain in a Jaguars uniform. There has been no contact between Ngakoue’s camp and the Jaguars in regard to a contract extension. There might not be for a while -- or at least until there’s more clarity on what, if any, changes are coming to the Jaguars’ front office following Tom Coughlin's dismissal.
Maybe a new regime would be more receptive to Ngakoue’s asking price of approximately $22 million per year, especially because the Jaguars no longer have to worry about paying cornerback Jalen Ramsey and already signed linebacker Myles Jack to a long-term deal. The Jaguars are less than a million dollars over the projected 2020 salary cap, per OverTheCap.com. They could create additional salary-cap space by cutting defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, defensive end Calais Campbell and others if they want to sign Ngakoue to a long-term deal.
The other option is the franchise tag, which would pay Ngakoue approximately $19.3 million in 2020. The first day teams can use the franchise tag is Feb. 25. That’s too far in the future for Ngakoue to think about, though.
“I’ve just got to continue to do [prove himself], not just to this organization or anything like that, but I’ve just got to prove it to myself and prove it to the world,” Ngakoue said. “I was snubbed with the Pro Bowl, so obviously my name is not being as circulated through this league as much as it should be, so I’ve got to continue to keep working.”