A Blake Bortles contingency plan for the Jaguars
On June 22, Oakland Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr received a five-year, $125 million contract from his team, making him not only the richest player in the NFL, but also the richest player in football history. Carr was drafted in 2014 out of Fresno State, with the 36th pick in the 2nd round. That’s a long way back from where Jacksonville Jaguars’ quarterback Blake Bortles was drafted, in the 1st round, 3rd overall. I need not go on with this senseless comparison. Until 2015, both quarterbacks looked to be heading on similar trajectories, with young and talented teams set to rule the league in the coming years.
But last season, their careers took a dramatic fork away from each other. Carr lead his team to the playoffs, connecting on 63.8% on 3,937 yards, threw 28 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, and owned a passer rating of 96.7. Meanwhile, Bortles’ Jaguars team went 3-13 and he threw 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, and owned a passer rating of 78.8. As put cordially by ESPN’s Michael DiRocco, Bortles is running out of time to convince the Jaguars he is their long term quarterback.
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On May 1st, the Jags picked up Bortles’ fifth year option. This made perfect financial sense, as outlined by Executive Vice President Tom Coughlin and NFL.com’s Conor Orr. If Bortles gets his career back on track to pre-2016 form, Jacksonville enjoys another year of a relatively economical QB. If not, they can cut him and move on, as his money is only guaranteed for injury.
Obviously, we’ll all be rooting for Bortles to have that bounce back year under new head coach Doug Marrone, with a revamped offense and a stronger O-line. But Coughlin, well aware of what it takes to win a Super Bowl, is clearly more than prepared for the outcome where he does not bounce back, or worse, regresses. If that takes place, what are the Jaguars’ options at QB? Before we get to that, the first thing to look at to attempt to solve a puzzle like this is the offense. Fortunately, the Jags have the luxury of a lot of talented players on this side of the ball.
New HC Doug Marrone and promoted Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett have previously run a hybrid of the “air Coryell” offense with the Syracuse Orange and Buffalo Bills. But when quizzed on what might be happening this year, Marrone called it a “pro style attack with the veer”. ‘None. Zero,” Marrone told reporters, when they asked how many passes he’d like to see Bortles throw in a game, “for me, I like to run the ball every play.”
Obviously, this is not going to be a direct reflection of what happens on the field in 2017-18. But let’s investigate that “pro style attack with the veer” a little more. There’s a good chance we could see a return of Marrone’s hybrid air Coryell offense. That fits under the mold of a pro style attack. This would be good news for Bortles.
He would have simpler reads to make and more basic routes to throw, which would definitely help with his confidence. After all, Marrone’s Buffalo Bills went 9-7 with Kyle Orton as their quarterback in 2014. Marrone also mentioned he would be incorporating the veer into his offensive scheme. Obviously, this is with 2017 number four overall pick Leonard Fournette in mind.
Fournette was selected by Jacksonville out of LSU primarily for his explosive talent, but also to help take some of the pressure off Bortles’ shoulders. Used effectively, the veer featuring Fournette will do so. However, it will also require an improvement from Bortles himself regarding his decision making and how he reads defenses (remember, he thus far has 51 interceptions in three years).
So, Bortles does not improve enough, or at all, and the Jaguars hit the open market – where are they looking? The Jags will almost certainly look to the Draft, whether or not they also decide to play the free agency game. Obviously, this will also be dependent on how poorly the team does and where they pick.
Fortunately for Jacksonville, the 2018 quarterback class is rated highly, and pre-season, USC’s Sam Darnold tops the pile. There’s every chance he comes off the draft board first overall, and let’s hope the Jaguars aren’t picking there! Outside of Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson from Louisville, all rate from rounds 1 to 3.
However, the speculation on a college quarterback coming in and solving the team’s problems are silly. As appealing as a young talent is, the problems this team possesses need to be solved by a quarterback with an NFL resume ready. In terms of professional quarterbacks off contract, the most obvious is Kirk Cousins.
Recently, it was speculated that Cousins could wind up as the highest paid NFL player of all time. That may very well be what it takes for the Jags to get him. Would they be prepared to outlay that much money for a man who has thus far lost the two most important games of his career? Who knows?
Another name Jacksonville may explore could be Sam Bradford, but who knows how ready he will be to leave Minnesota, he’d be after the career renaissance he’s experienced with the Vikings. Matthew Stafford and Jimmy Garoppolo round out the most high profile names at quarterback coming off contract at the end of the year, which shows how truly desperate the Jaguars will be for Bortles to put it together this year. If he doesn’t, the answer may be a very expensive one. Please, Blake, get it right.
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