JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars have until March 14 to decide what they will do with Blake Bortles’ contract.
There are three choices.
First, the Jaguars can do nothing, in which case Bortles will play under his fifth-year option and will earn over $19 million. Second, they can cut him, and then be in the market for a free agent and/or drafted quarterback. Finally, the Jaguars can negotiate a new, long-term contract with Bortles, which would indicate that Tom Coughlin and Dave Caldwell are convinced that he will be their franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future.
Here are the factors that are likely to go into each decision and the ramifications of each:
Let him play
The Jaguars can simply do nothing, and by March 14, Bortles becomes a $19,053,000 quarterback which makes him, by default, the starter for 2018. This is the most likely scenario. His play in a three game stretch in December, and particularly the way he played against the Steelers and Patriots in the playoffs, may be enough for Coughlin and Caldwell to feel confident that he can be the leader of the offense moving forward. Bortles was more efficient in 2017 than in past years. While his touchdown passes were about the same as 2016 (21 in 2017 compared to 23 the prior season), he reduced his interceptions form 16 to 13 and did not turn the ball over in the red zone. Some of that was due to a reduced reliance on the passing game. The player in the locker room rave about Bortles and really rallied around him as the season went on. They appreciate his mental and physical toughness, which are highly valued among teammates.
If the Jaguars brass still wants to see more from Bortles, they can have him play under the fifth-year option, then evaluate his season before settling on an offer for the future, or move on after 2018. One other tool at the Jaguars disposal is the Franchise Tag. If the Jaguars let Bortles play under his fifth-year option in 2018, then still want another year to evaluate him, they can put the franchise tag on him, guaranteeing that he makes the average of the five highest paid players at his position. In 2017, that equated to $21.268 million for one year. Expect that number to go up in 2019, when the Jaguars would have to use the tag.
The Jaguars could cut Bortles. The only reason they would do so is if they are confident that they can sign a quarterback in free agency. Among the candidates to add are Kirk Cousins, and perhaps, Drew Brees, although Brees is expected to be re-signed by the Saints. Alex Smith was a potential candidate, but Kansas City traded him to the Redskins Tuesday. The Vikings also have a glut of quarterbacks. Teddy Bridgewater and Case Keenum are not likely to both be on the Minnesota roster when the 2018 season begins. Also of note, Bortles reportedly underwent surgery on his right wrist, an injury that landed him on the injury report all year. That is significant, because the Jaguars can’t cut Bortles while he is injured or recovering from an injury.
Re-sign him to a long-term deal
If the Jaguars are completely convinced that Bortles is their guy for the near- and mid-term future, they could alleviate some salary cap space and sign him to a long term deal. There is risk in this approach. The Jaguars have to be correct in their evaluation of Bortles and whether he can continue to improve in some key areas, especially, his play late in close games. The Jaguars didn’t see Bortles lead the team back from behind, although in the playoff win over the Steelers, he was effecting in the fourth quarter when it was clear that the Jaguars needed to keep scoring to stay ahead of Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh.
The Jaguars have until March 14 to make the decision on Bortles, but practically speaking, they must know their direction well before the deadline. Expect a decision to be made, if not announced, at some point in February.