Jaguars to Franchise Tag Top Eagles Target in Free Agency

Yannick Ngakoue

Getty Yannick Ngakoue wants out of Jacksonville and is refusing to sign the franchise tag there.

The Eagles have been looking for a legit edge rusher since Chris Long retired. Well, one of the best in the business may be available.

For the right price, of course. Stud pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue has long been rumored to want out of Jacksonville and finally made his thoughts on the subject publicly known. The 24-year-old took to Twitter to thank Jaguars fans for their support, then added that he has no intention of signing a long-term deal in Jacksonville and “looks forward to continuing my career elsewhere.”

The post came minutes after a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter said that the Jaguars were intending to place their franchise tag on him. The price tag on that move would pay Ngakoue approximately $19.3 million per year, although it doesn’t sound like he has any intention of signing it. If that happens, the Jaguars would have to trade him.

Ngakoue has been one of the best edge rushers in football over the past four seasons and his 14 forced fumbles are the fourth-best during that span. As ESPN’s Field Yates pointed out, the former third-round pick is one of only seven players with at least eight sacks in each season since arriving in the NFL.

Ngakoue’s 37.5 sacks rank second-most among those drafted in 2016 and his 85 quarterback hits during that span are eighth-best in the league. He has also recorded 122 total tackles, including 42 tackles for loss. He is truly a game-changer and difference-maker on the defensive side of the ball.

Eagles Should Make Strong Push for Ngakoue

While recent reports have the Eagles circling the wagons for Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones, it would be more prudent to make a push for Yannick Ngakoue. Philadelphia never replaced Chris Long’s production after the situational pass-rusher hung up his cleats after the 2018 season. They passed on Jadeveon Clowney and handed the keys over to second-year man Josh Sweat.

Sweat showed flashes, especially down the stretch, and finished with four sacks. He’s probably not the answer. Meanwhile, Derek Barnett has been an enigma on the edge in three seasons. The former first-round pick (14th overall) has missed 12 games over the past two seasons while committing a myriad of questionable penalties, borderline dirty plays.

The Eagles have to make a decision on whether to exercise the fifth-year option — approximately $10 million in 2021 — on a guy who has 14 sacks in his first three years in the league. Barnett has been a decent defensive end but far from a superstar. The team may keep him out of necessity or attempt to trade him.

Remember, the Eagles would have to trade for Ngakoue and the price could be steep. Jacksonville drove a stiff bargain when they dealt Jalen Ramsey to the Rams and netted two first-round picks in return.

What’s the Cap Flexibility for the Eagles?

Philadelphia will have money to spend in free agency, around $42 million under the cap. That’s surely enough to sign a guy like Yannick Ngakoue. He’ll want to be paid in line with the highest-paid defensive ends in football, a figure hovering around $20 million per year.

The Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence set the bar last year when he inked a five-year, $105 million extension, including $65 million in guarantees. But Ngakoue wants to win and seems — this is one reporter’s opinion — like he might be open to negotiating that down (a tiny bit) if it meant playing for a contender in a bigger media market.

Jacksonville has no appeal in that regard. The leading candidates to win Ngakoue’s services are reportedly the Eagles, Giants and Bills. Free agency begins on March 18 but teams can start negotiating on March 15. Bottom line, the Eagles should do everything in their power to get Ngakoue.

They struggled to pressure the quarterback in 2019 and it was an area of weakness from the preseason to the postseason. Yes, they finished with 43 total sacks, down only one from 44 sacks in 2018. But 10 of those sacks came in one game, against the hapless Jets on Oct. 6.

The only negative in signing Ngakoue is it would limit them in going out and spending big bucks on an elite cornerback, like Byron Jones. It will most likely be one or the other.

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