Mea culpa. Our bad. Cold as cold takes get.
Yes, when we examined the Jacksonville Jaguars’ quarterback situation prior to the 2017 season — and then again around midseason — we had a pretty clear but stark view of what the team should and would do at the position going forward.
Boiled down, reduced to Reader’s Digest form, we thought this would be Bortles’ final run with the team.
Every signal we got suggested that was the case. And perhaps it was at the time. As a credit to the Jaguars sources with whom we spoke, there was a lot of “no comments” or passes on opportunities to slam their former No. 3 overall pick — they wouldn’t throw Bortles under the bus, even when there was talk about benching him prior to the season.
Might there have been regret over passing Deshaun Watson in this year’s draft? For sure, and it was a consideration of sorts last April, even if the team zeroed in on Leonard Fournette as Round 1 got closer. But as far as completely punting on Bortles, the Jaguars never did it.
And that’s why, especially after he has flourished in recent games, we believe there’s an exceptional chance that he’s not only back for 2018 but that the team will offer him an extension.
Whether or not he takes it is another story. He’s due a $19 million fifth-year option, which the Jaguars smartly picked up following the 2016 season. It didn’t necessarily seem so wise that long ago, and there might have been some talk about benching Bortles and making him the team’s third QB so as to prevent having to pay him the injury guarantee on that whopper of a number.
But that talk changed when it was clear that Bortles not only was clearly the better option than backup QB Chad Henne but that he had some untapped upside that the Jaguars would try to coax out of him. The fact that Bortles has played as well as he has, namely since Week 7, speaks to good coaching and smart long-term planning.
The now playoff-bound Jaguars had foresight that many outside the organization did not. GM Dave Caldwell, whose future with the team has been questioned at times, has been one of Bortles’ strongest supporters. So the quarterback’s improvement should be an endorsement for Caldwell’s work.
Bortles also has been doing what he’s doing without No. 1 receiver Allen Robinson and with injuries at the position. Allen Hurns’ name was floated in trade talks at one point. Marqise Lee became the go-to guy when Robinson and fourth-rounder Dede Westbrook got hurt prior to the season, and Hurns has been out since Nov. 12. Undrafted rookie Keelan Cole has been thrust into a key role, and last week first-year player Jaydon Mickens, who had one career catch entering Week 15, was a two-TD hero.
Throw in the fact that Bortles has been working with a rookie left tackle and that Fournette has missed three games, and the body of work has been even more impressive. Granted, some of Bortles’ passing production has been beefed up against some inferior opponents. But given the conditions around him, it’s hard to knock his steady play.
We don’t know how serious the Eli Manning trade talk ever got, and we suspect it never reached any kind of tangible level. But that’s not to say that the Jaguars couldn’t have been in a position to consider going after Manning this coming offseason, especially given executive Tom Coughlin’s relationship with him. But we don’t believe that approach will at all be on the front burner this offseason the way things are going.
Bortles actually could bet on himself and reject anything other than a long-term, firm commitment from the team this offseason. Seeking at least $60 million guaranteed on something like a five- or six-year extension wouldn’t be a wild proposition, and he really holds something of a power position now.
That would be risky, given his past inconsistencies. But with a $19 million cushion to fall back on, Bortles could roll the dice and hope that his 2018 body of work — assuming Robinson returns and at full health — is stronger than what he has put up so far this season.
Can you even imagine suggesting such a possibility even a few months ago? That’s how much things appear to have changed in such a short time.