Yannick Ngakoue made it clear that he wanted out of Jacksonville. Calais Campbell was surprised the Jaguars sent him packing.
The Ravens defensive ends will go against their former team Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, but their emotions around the reunion probably won't be the same.
Sure, they both obviously want to have a big game against their former teammates and coaches, but Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew summed up the difference best.
"I'm not going to talk trash to Calais," Minshew said this week. "I know Calais. Calais is too nice of a guy, like I know it's not real coming from Calais. We're too cool, I hope. Now Yannick's going to be out for blood."
The Jaguars drafted Ngakoue out of the University of Maryland in the third round in 2016. He made a name for himself as one of the league's premier pass rushers, piling up 37.5 sacks through his first four seasons. But Ngakoue grew tired of losing in Jacksonville and wanted out.
The Jaguars are 1-12 while the Ravens are 8-5 and making a playoff push. And Ngakoue is keeping his focus on that.
"I'm just treating it as another game. We need the rest of these wins to get to where we're trying to get to," Ngakoue said Thursday. "At the end of the day, I had my time with Jacksonville – that's not a secret."
After the Jaguars placed the non-exclusive $17.8 million franchise tag on Ngakoue, he turned up the volume on his trade request.
Eventually, the Jaguars traded Ngakoue to the Minnesota Vikings on Aug. 30, just before the start of the regular season. Ngakoue wanted out of Jacksonville so bad that he took a reported 30 percent pay cut (about $6 million).
Ngokoue flourished in Minnesota, racking up five sacks in six games, but the Vikings traded him to Baltimore in late October, which was perfect for Ngakoue considering he's a Maryland native with a very close relationship with his mom and was joining a Super Bowl contender.
Ngokoue is still looking for his long-term contract, hoping that it will be in Baltimore. He hasn't filled the box score as much as anticipated yet. Ngakoue has one sack in his seven games in Baltimore.
Ngakoue has certainly flashed at various times as a Raven, and he came extremely close to a sack/strip of Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield late in Monday night's game. There are times when he will take over a series. But one of the game's premier pass rush finishers wants to finish with more sacks, and he'd love to get the run started Sunday against the Jaguars.
"Continue to do what I'm doing every day – practicing hard, studying and continuing to rush violently and winning violently," Ngakoue said. "This game is about inches. So, I just have to continue to keep working my craft."
Campbell has a different perspective on his time in Jacksonville. He signed a huge deal with the Jaguars as a free agent in 2017 and had some of his best years there, notching a whopping 25 sacks over his first two seasons and helping push the Jaguars to the AFC Championship.
Campbell dropped to 6.5 sacks last season in Jacksonville and the team struggled to a 6-10 finish. The Jaguars went into a rebuild mode this offseason and dealt Campbell and his contract to the Ravens. The move surprised Campbell but didn't anger him.
"I was expecting to be in Jacksonville throughout the remainder of my contract and maybe even longer," Campbell said. "I thought maybe an extension would come before a trade would come. So I was kind of caught off guard, but it happened to be to one of the best teams in football, so it was kind of a win-win situation."
Campbell's first season in Baltimore has had its challenges. It was tougher to get to know his new teammates because of COVID-19. The reigning Walter Payton Man of the Year was still feeling out where he fit in exactly.
He immediately bonded with his teammates once they hit the field together and has been a huge hit. On the field, he started his Ravens tenure by causing an interception on his first defensive drive. He has notched four sacks and been a commanding run stuffer.
But that's when Campbell has been on the field. A calf injury suffered in Indianapolis put him on the shelf and then he contracted COVID-19 on top of that. He came back from both in time to face the Dallas Cowboys a little more than a week ago, but Campbell said he's still not 100 percent.
On Wednesday, he smiled and said he would "love" to feel physically better than he did last week. He wants to be at, or as close as possible, to the top of his game against the Jaguars.
"First things first, I want to win to make sure that we give ourselves the opportunity to go to the postseason," Campbell said. "But naturally, being a competitor, you play on a team for three years, you know all the guys. I'm looking forward to the matchup.
"I've been in contact with a bunch of the guys over there, just because in football, you develop a brotherhood and friendship. So, a lot of those guys I'm real, real tight with. It's going to be fun competing and talking trash along the way and having some fun with the old team."
What's the same about Ngakoue and Campbell's approach is they want to win. There were some tough years in Jacksonville and now they want to help push Baltimore over the hump.
"When you get the opportunity, you have to take advantage of it, because you never know when it's going to come again," Campbell said. "Being on that [Jaguars] team and going to the AFC Championship game, we're up 10 [points] with five minutes to go, or whatever … It's just like, you have to find a way to win that ball game, because in this business, the only thing that's guaranteed is change. … You have to take advantage of the opportunities when they come. That's why I try to make sure that this team understands that this opportunity to go to the playoffs, to win these next couple of ball games, really this next ball game to have an opportunity for the next couple [of games], it's so crucial."