On Saturday night, the Jacksonville Jaguars took themselves out of the free agent quarterback race when the team signed Blake Bortles to a three-year contract extension worth $54 million with incentives that could sweeten the deal to $66.5 million.
The Jaguars, who were one quarter away from playing in the Super Bowl earlier this month, answered one of their most glaring offseason questions. Now we all know what the team will do at the quarterback position.
While fans across the board were either shocked, dismayed or excited about the news that Bortles, the former first round pick in 2014, will be behind center the next three seasons, it is a solid move for the Jaguars – a team that won 10 games in the regular season after a 10-year absence from the playoffs.
Bortles was due to make $19.053 million in 2018 after the team picked up his fifth-year option last May.
“I told Ryan [Tollner], my agent, let’s just get it done so I can just go play football. I really would love to just know and have confirmation that this is where I’m going to be, and now let’s go work and continue to build on what we did last year and go play,” Bortles said. “So, happy and relieved. Obviously extremely excited. It’s a dream come true to be able to sign a second contract by the team that drafted me. That was one of my goals from the start so excited to get it all done and get rolling now.”
The news comes after rumblings most of the week that the team was looking at other options to lead this team in the 2018 season. There was talk amongst many outlets the team would make a serious run at Kirk Cousins or look to add another veteran to either complete with Bortles or to take over the position before the start of training camp. Mike Florio of profootballtalk.com even went as far as to outline how the team could end Bortles’ tenure in Jacksonville before the official start of the NFL season.
Florio thought the Jaguars’ attempt to upgrade the quarterback position could pick up speed next week at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
“The Jaguars have a window of opportunity to attempt to negotiate a new deal with a free-agent quarterback before the window closes on severing ties with Blake Bortles. Per a league source with knowledge of the situation, the Jaguars currently are exploring their options, actively.
“While the tampering rules prohibit direct communications with agents who represent looming free agents, tampering has become a normal business practice for all teams as free agency approaches. The process already has begun as it relates to Jacksonville’s effort to upgrade at the quarterback position, and it likely will continue — if not accelerate — next week at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.”
The news of Bortles’ new deal comes a year after Tom Coughlin, the team’s Executive Vice-President, said in order for the fourth-year pro needed to take better care of the football and make better decisions on the field. Bortles responded by throwing for Bortles completed 60.2 percent of his passes (the first time he surpassed the 60 percent mark) for 3,687 yards and 21 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. He was sacked only 24 times and was one of the best red zone quarterbacks in the league.
“I’ve been around Blake for the past three seasons, only one as the head coach, but I have seen him grow considerably in all facets: the way he prepares, the way he takes care of his body, the way he leads the team, the way he holds himself and his teammates accountable,” head coach Doug Marrone said when asked about his quarterback during the 2017 season.
“I have said it all along — I think Blake is one of the toughest people I have ever met, and I’m talking about his mental and physical toughness. He never lets the outside noise get him away from where his focus is, which is always on being a great teammate and being a great leader for our organization.”
That leadership will now continue as the team prepares for the upcoming season with a bullseye on its back as division champions and a running game and defense that are both regarded as one of the best in the NFL.
Per Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com, Bortles didn’t exactly have a full complement of receivers, either. Allen Robinson suffered a torn left ACL on the third play of the season, and veterans Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee combined to miss eight games. Undrafted rookie Keelan Cole and fourth-round pick Dede Westbrook, who missed the first nine games of the season recovering from sports hernia surgery, were Bortles’ main options during a late-season stretch.
“Blake’s growth and development last season was a key to the success we had as a team,” said Tom Coughlin. “Blake has proven, with toughness and dependability, that he can be the leader this team needs going forward. Along with this contract come high expectations that he will continue to improve and help our team accomplish its ultimate goal.”
Now, the Jaguars can move forward with other free agent decisions. Robinson should be the team’s top priority. The Jaguars have the option of signing the fourth-year player to a long-term deal, giving him the franchise tag or allowing him to test free agency where it is almost a guarantee he will sign with another franchise.