Show Me the Money: Will the Jaguars new draft class go down as the best in franchise history because of Myles Jack extension?
The 2016 NFL draft was a turning point for the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise. Coming into that draft, the Jaguars were fresh off a disappointing 5-11 season and fans were rightfully frustrated. The team was one season removed from drafting their presumed franchise quarterback, Blake Bortles and the team hadn’t had the improvement that was expected of them. General Manager Dave Caldwell knew something had to be done.
The upcoming draft and offseason presented a new hope for the franchise, an opportunity to improve the team and get the fans excited for the future of the organization, and that’s exactly what happened. The Jaguars draft class that season could go down as the best in franchise history. Dave Caldwell changed the scape of the franchise by drafting three absolute game-changers in the first three rounds of the draft. As Roger Goodell walked across the stage, met by boos from fans of all 32 NFL teams, he pulled out the calling card and announced the first pick of the draft for the Jags. “With the fifth pick of the 2016 NFL draft the Jacksonville Jaguars select, Jalen Ramsey Cornerback Florida State.” An absolute game changer! Easily the best cornerback in the draft class and a player that would help improve a pass defense that ranked 29th in the NFL that season.
Things didn’t stop there. Caldwell followed up his impressive first-round pick by trading up in the second round and scooping up UCLA’s star linebacker Myles Jack. Jack was considered by many the best linebacker to enter the draft but fell out of the first round due to a knee injury he had sustained during practice at UCLA the season before. The Jaguars had landed an absolute steal and another star to help shore up the struggling defense.
When the third round came Caldwell decided to reinforce the defense yet again and drafted Yannick Ngakoue, a defensive end from Maryland. In Yannick’s final season at Maryland, he had racked up an impressive 13.5 sacks and looked to be a great addition to the pass rush in Jacksonville. The Jaguars and David Caldwell had done it, they had drafted three players that had the makings to be absolute game-changers for the organization and had given fans a reason to be excited for Sundays again.
Since that draft, Jalen Ramsey has undoubtedly become the face of the Jaguars franchise and has been a thorn in opposing receivers’ sides week in and out. (Just ask AJ Green.) Myles Jack has been a mainstay in the Jags defense since being drafted and Yannick has become a nightmare to opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks. That weekend in 2016 Caldwell successfully changed the fortunes of the Jacksonville Jaguars by adding pieces that would have a positive impact on the team in the years to come.
During the next offseason, Jacksonville landed the biggest prize in free agency by signing defensive end Calais Campbell and drafting the big bruising running back Leonard Fournette out of LSU. Caldwell looked like a mastermind, assembling players that would lead the Jags to win their division in 2017 with a 10-6 record ending their 10- year playoff drought.
Now two years later, can Caldwell repeat? He is the man responsible for helping assemble the heart of the Jacksonville Jaguars but as quick as he assembled them could these players slip right through his fingers and depart during their impending free agency? The future of the Jags could depend on the decisions they make in the coming days. Ramsey, Jack, and Ngakoue have done their part, they’ve played great football and now it’s time for them to get paid. Free agency for these stars is right around the corner and they will all be banging on Caldwell’s door demanding the same thing, “SHOW ME THE MONEY!”
Jalen Ramsey’s entrance to training camp was…. Well it was..
— Ben Murphy (@BenMurphyTV) July 24, 2019
Fast forward to the start of Jacksonville’s 2019 training camp as players roll in ready to prepare for the upcoming season. Star player, Jalen Ramsey, prepares to bring his ongoing contract dispute to the forefront of the media by pulling up in an armored truck, the kind of vehicle banks trust to transport their money. Lots of money. And that’s exactly what Jalen wants and deserves.
On top of Jalen’s armored truck spectacle, Yannick is nowhere to be found. He has decided to start a holdout to put the Jaguar’s front office on notice. He too wants to be paid. This isn’t the kind of attention the Jaguars were hoping to receive on the first day of training camp but now it seems to be the only storyline people are following.
The Jaguars had notified Ramsey before training camp that he wouldn’t get an extension during the 2019 season since they had already picked up his fifth-year option which keeps him under contract for the 2020 season. Both Jack and Ngakoue aren’t eligible for the fifth-year option because they weren’t first-round selections. Maybe, for this reason, the Jaguars find their contract extensions more pressing then Ramsey’s.
At the end of this season, both players can walk and the Jags will presumably place the franchise tag on one of them. But after Leveon Bell’s hold out last season, we now know the tag is no guarantee a player shows. The truth of the matter is that the Jags have a problem on their hands. Losing three big-name free agents, two of which could be considered staples of the franchise, would be a huge hit for a team that hasn’t yet maintained a level of success.
So, what should Caldwell and the Jaguars front office do? First, they need to make signing Ramsey and Ngakoue a priority. It is not likely that the team will be able to keep all three players and business is business, Jack may be out the door along with other players that are currently under contract. Ramsey must be a top priority, but his free agency isn’t as imminent as Yannick’s is.
When Yannick reported to training camp after his holdout there was no word on an extension and from the sound of things, it didn’t sound like there was one in the works. There is no doubt that Yannick is in line to be paid and if the Jaguars don’t, there are 31 other teams in the NFL that just might. Yannick’s production on the field has put him at the top of rankings for his position. A position that has seen players get paid a lot of money recently.
Currently, the highest-paid defensive end in the NFL is Demarcus Lawrence of the Dallas Cowboys, averaging 21 million dollars a year. These are numbers that the Jaguars will have to match or possibly surpass. Yannick has outproduced Lawrence since the start of 2016. Yannick has 29.5 sacks compared to Lawrence’s 26 in that time span. It has already been reported that Jacksonville had offered Yannick a short-term deal that would pay him over 19 million per year, but Yannick seems to be looking for a contract closer to the likes of Lawrence’s, which I’d say he deserves.
The most likely scenario for Yannick is the franchise tag for the 2020 season and hopes for a long-term deal between then and 2021. At the end of this season, the Jaguars would place the tag on Yannick giving him a substantial pay raise but no long-term security with the team. The Jaguars may very well be looking at having to pay Yannick over 100 million dollars and that number could rise if he continues to play at the high level he has already in his career. If the Jaguars decide to place the tag on Yannick it might guarantee the team that he’s there in 2020, but if they fail to come to a deal during next season, he may depart for another team willing to give him the long-term deal he seeks.
Since being drafted in 2016, Jalen Ramsey has started every game over his three-year career and been selected to two pro bowls. Pair that high level of play with his high level of swagger and it’s easy to see how he has become the face of the Jacksonville Jaguars. There isn’t a fan in Jacksonville that wants to see Ramsey leave the city and play elsewhere and the Jaguars must make locking him up a top priority. We’ve already established that Jalen is under contract through 2020 which gives the team some time to move the pieces around to make signing him a possibility.
Come to the end of the 2020 season, Jalen could be a franchise tag candidate, which would be the worst case scenario for Jacksonville. If Ramsey is voicing his frustrations now, I can only imagine the level of frustration he’ll be feeling in two seasons if this hasn’t been resolved. We could go on and on as to why Ramsey deserves to get a high dollar long term contract but that goes without being said at this point. If a player of this caliber hits free agency, 31 other teams will be drooling, throwing money to get him to join their franchise.
Currently, the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL is Xavien Howard of the Miami Dolphins. At the beginning of this offseason, the Dolphins signed him to a long-term contract worth over 75 million and averaging just over 15 million a year. Those are numbers the Jags will have to beat, by a substantial amount. Howard is no bum at the CB position his stats from last season show why he got paid. Last season Howard nabbed 7 interceptions and only allowed 47 receptions only 5 of which went for TDs. Even though he played at such a high rate, I’m willing to say the average NFL fan doesn’t even know who Howard is.
Jalen is a much more marketable player and may very well be the reason some Jacksonville fans are sitting in the stands. Ramsey’s stats are comparable to that of Howards allowing fewer TDs (3) and only allowed two 100-yard performances by receivers he was covering. Antonio Brown in week 11 and Deandre Hopkins in week 17, two receivers who are considered elite at their position. The Jaguars may have to surpass Howards 15 million a year and pay Jalen anywhere from 18-20 million dollars a season. Players like Ramsey don’t come along often, and Jacksonville just may have to reset the market to keep him around.
As for Myles Jack, he’s not the odd man out. He has been a mainstay in the Jaguars defense but hasn’t put up the elite level of production. With two players about to be paid potentially close to 100 million a piece, some players will have to go since the Jaguars decided to extend has contract. This offseason the Jaguars signed Jake Ryan to a two-year 7.5-million-dollar deal, and he wouldn’t be a free agent until the 2021 offseason which with that number he could be a value to the team as Jack’s backup middle linebacker at a much lower cost.
If 2016 was a turning point in the right direction for the Jaguars than 2019 could be the same- just in the opposite direction. Caldwell pulled off a great feat on that draft day assembling three players that any NFL franchise would love to have. Now he will need to pull off a bigger feat and keep these players in Jaguar uniforms. His job and the future of the Jacksonville Jaguars may depend on it.