What if I told you the Jacksonville Jaguars would be making a big mistake in trying to sign Kirk Cousins to a free agent contract? And what if I told you the differences between Cousins, the soon to be free agent signal caller and Blake Bortles, the Jaguars’ starter are slight but not overwhelming?

With NFL free agency on the horizon, the news of potential suitors for Cousins remains a hot topic now that Alex Smith is off the board and ready to assume the role of the former Redskins starter. The Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos and New York Jets all make sense as landing spots. Jacksonville may not be the place that is the perfect fit for “the man” this free agent period.

If we take Drew Brees off the list – mainly because I cannot see him ever leaving New Orleans – then it’s Cousins or bust for some teams. For the Jaguars, it does not have to be that way.

“The Jacksonville Jaguars are one of the teams expected to pursue free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins. It will be costly, though — likely in the neighborhood of $27 million to $30 million annually,” writes Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com

“That’s roughly $10 million more than what the Jaguars would have to pay Blake Bortles in 2018. And it’s likely more than what Bortles would command in a contract extension if he were to play well enough this season to earn one. Bortles is due to make $19.053 million in 2018 on the fifth-year option. The wrist surgery he had earlier this month is not expected to keep him from passing a physical.”

While there have been plenty of hiccups on Bortles’ journey as an NFL quarterback, he improved this past season, more importantly, he won two playoff games and the Jaguars finished the season in the AFC Title game. He and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett have a great relationship, which has helped the former first-round pick mature as a player in his fourth year in the league.

Bortles also played without his top target in Allen Robinson and dealt with injuries to his other two major weapons in Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns. Jacksonville took advantage of the best running game in the NFL and a defense that was brutal against opponents in 2017.

Bortles threw for 2,687 yards and 21 touchdowns with only 13 interceptions – a career low. He was sacked only 24 times after taking a beating his first three seasons in the league. Cousins’ numbers this past season were better, throwing for 4,093 yards and 27 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. But he was sacked 41 times.

On the whole, their careers are borderline similar, explains DiRocco.

“Cousins and Bortles have each played in 62 games and Cousins does have a slight edge in victories (31 to 26) in the regular season. He also is significantly better in completion percentage (64.5 percent to 59.1 percent), passing yards (16,026 to 14,928) and passer rating (93.7 to 80.8).

“Both players are similar in touchdown passes (Cousins has 99, Bortles has 90), though Bortles has thrown nine more interceptions,” he explains.

What is different an in favor of the incumbent is red zone performance where Bortles was on fire last season. Since 2015, Bortles has thrown 61 touchdown passes and only four interceptions in the red zone. Cousins has thrown 52 touchdown passes and five interceptions on 11 more attempts. Bortles was among the league’s top quarterbacks in the red zone in 2017, throwing 18 touchdown passes and no interceptions. He was one of only six quarterbacks to throw at least 15 touchdown passes without an interception. Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Case Keenum, Carson Wentz and Jared Goff were the others.

That’s pretty good company to be in. And Bortles will have or should have Robinson back, whether he is signed to a long-term contract of is given the Franchise Tag by the organization.

Jacksonville should do one of two things this offseason – bring in a veteran to replace Bortles, or bring in a veteran to challenge him for the starting role while drafting a rookie to groom for the future. Cousins doesn’t make as much sense as AJ McCarron of Cincinnati or possibly Sam Bradford of Minnesota. Also, the Jaguars could select a quarterback in the first three round of the NFL Draft in April.

Lamar Jackson, Mason Rudolph and Ryan Lindley are all possibilities.

What the Jaguars don’t need is to overspend for slightly above what they have right now. Cousins and Bortles are more neck-and-neck than a mile-long distance between them. I still think Bortles is the best option for this franchise. And no matter what the team decides, Bortles is still going to take shots from the media, his opponents and the fans who just don’t want him as their signal caller.

But if all these variables are still existent and Bortles makes more progress next season, and the Jaguars are in the playoffs and the hunt for the Super Bowl, then once again, he has proved his doubters wrong. An NFL insider told me at the start of training camp he thought Bortles would be just fine this past season. He was right on so many levels.

Jaguars will be just fine if they keep Bortles, move away from the Cousins sweepstakes and groom a starter for the future. What Bortles did last season was still pretty good – regardless if many of us see that from my point of view.

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