There is a time in every relationship where a couple has to ask itself “What are we?” It’s a question some dread answering, but it’s one the Jacksonville Jaguars just answered with Blake Bortles this weekend, finalizing a three-year, $54 million dollar deal that keeps Bortles through the 2020 season. The deal itself, was a commitment to Bortles for next season. The Jaguars are taking another step into the relationship, moving in with Bortles, and building more of a comfort with him. The move in is commitment, but not a permanent one.
Once the Alex Smith trade to the Washington Redskins was finalized, the options the Jaguars had at quarterback going into the 2018, shrank realistically to two. Blake Bortles, or Kirk Cousins. There was much debate about the direction the Jaguars could go, and how much better was Cousins than Bortles? Was it worth the difference in money, to pursue Cousins to come to Jacksonville?
The Jaguars answered the question, and it was the answer many of us expected, but not the one all of us wanted to hear. When Bortles won the Divisional Round game vs. the Steelers, that all but sealed the deal in my mind. No matter how up and down he had been, the precedent for teams switching quarterbacks after going to a championship game, were slim to none.
And at the end of the day, sticking with Bortles was the “safe” option. It has the potential to blow up in their face, but in league circles, no one is going to blame the Jaguars for sticking it out with him.
Bortles is Dave Caldwell’s guy, thick and thin. He drafted him 3rd overall, allowed him to play in his first season, even though he deemed him not ready to. Didn’t bring in any competition after a putrid 2016 season, and stuck with him as the starter going into 2017, even when it seemed like he couldn’t drop a downfield pass in the ocean. Now he has extended Bortles, which at least commits to him for the 2018 season, and maybe beyond.
The Bortles extension has its perks, as his cap hit in 2018 was lowered from 19 million, to 10 million. This will help in their negotiations with Allen Robinson, and help them put the best possible team around Bortles. This regime is banking on repeating their success from last year. Playing great defense, focusing on running the football, and limiting turnovers. It is a formula tried, and true in NFL history. However, banking on everything going the same can has its drawbacks, as no season is the same.
The AFC South will no doubt be tougher. Houston will have Deshaun Watson for a whole season, the Colts will most likely have Andrew Luck back, and the Titans could have a rejuvenated Marcus Mariota, after recovering from his hamstring injury.
We will have plenty of time to discuss the upcoming season, and a lot will happen now in free agency, and the draft to give us a clearer picture of the 2018 season.
At the end of the day, the Jaguars paid 7 million extra in guaranteed money to lock Bortles in, and lower his cap number. While many people don’t see upside in this deal, the Jaguars obviously do. Whether it has much validity or not, the Jaguars are hoping Bortles can out-perform the contract, and have them look like genius’ by next season.
On the broad scope of things, Bortles contract is rarity in today’s NFL. The two most recently signed deals that come closest to Bortles deal, are the contracts signed by Mike Glennon with the Bears, and the contract Sam Bradford signed with the Eagles, before he was traded to the Vikings.
Mike Glennon was given a 3-year, 45-million dollar deal, with 18 million in guarantees. Glennon’s time as a starter didn’t last long, as he was upended by Mike Trubisky shortly into the season, and is most likely going to be cut by the Bears this off-season.
Sam Bradford made it through both years on his 2-year, 34-million dollar deal, but no without struggle. After a hot 5-0 start in 2016, Bradford struggled behind an offensive line that could not protect him. In 2017, he struggled with injuries, and barely saw the field, as Case Keenum took the Vikings to the NFC Championship game.
What does this tell us? Well, these half-commitment contracts work out less often, than panning out. It does not mean Bortles deal has no shot at being a success by the end of it. However, it is more likely Bortles is cut next year, than finishing out the deal.
2018 is a huge year for Bortles, and if he puts up the same year he had last year, the Jaguars should move on. 2017 bought him some time, improvement in 2018 will buy him more. Improvement is needed from Bortles, even in the 5th year of his career. For the Jaguars to take the next level, they need someone they can trust more than they trusted Bortles last season. Even though they swore up and down they trusted Bortles, their play-calling throughout the season never reflected that.
Bortles must make strides, and prove he is a top 20 quarterback in this league. Those are the guys that get paid, and those are the guys who get security. Bortles has bought a little bit of both, but not enough to make himself feel too comfortable.
Bortles is moving in. He is bringing his toothbrush, his clothes, and even some furniture to make himself feel at home. Hell, he may even be ready to meet the parents. How will this pan out? Well, just like any other relationship, only time will tell.