- Blake Bortles is putting together a career year for the surprising 10-4 Jacksonville Jaguars.
- Bortles’ improvement came just as his career seemed in jeopardy after struggling badly in 2016 and through training camp.
- The Jaguars will have a tough decision to make over whether to extend Bortles or risk him walking in free agency in 2019.
The Jacksonville Jaguars clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2007 with a 45-7 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday.
The Jaguars were a trendy breakout pick before the season, but few could have seen a 10-4 season coming and the second-best point differential in the NFL.
And while a lion’s share of the credit goes to a dominant and explosive defense and a run-based offense anchored on Leonard Fournette, quarterback Blake Bortles also deserves credit.
Heading into the season, Bortles’ career appeared to be on life-support. Though the Jaguars picked up Bortles’ fifth-year option after a poor 2016 season, he was benched for backup quarterback Chad Henne in the preseason. Bortles struggled throughout training and preseason camp with a clip of wide receiver Allen Robinson growing visibly frustrated after Bortles badly overthrew him in practice gaining notoriety.
However, Bortles has responded in the regular season. Through 14 games, he’s completed 61% of his passes, a career-high, while throwing 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions, posting career-highs in passer rating (89.7) and QBR (58.5). His pass attempts are down and he has seemed to benefit from a smaller role in a run-based offense.
In December, Bortles has been even better, completing 71% of his passes, throwing seven touchdowns and no interceptions for a 128.6 passer rating. It’s worth noting that his hot December has boosted his overall numbers, which previously hovered near his career averages.
As ESPN’s Dan Graziano outlined, Bortles’ play might put the Jaguars in something of a bind this offseason. Bortles’ fifth-year option is worth $19 million and becomes fully guaranteed on March 14.
NFL teams like to capitalize on timing. If Bortles continues to play well to finish the year and the Jaguars do well in the playoffs (let’s say that means a single postseason win), the Jaguars may want to think about an extension for Bortles. Pricing that would be difficult, as the majority of Bortles’ career has pointed to a below-average starting quarterback. Would the Jaguars reward Bortles for a few months of solid play vs. three years of mediocrity? Graziano suggested the team could follow a similar path as the Philadelphia Eagles’ extension for Sam Bradford – two years, $37 million.
If the Jaguars don’t extend Bortles, there’s the chance he improves further next season and his price tag goes up. The Jaguars are projected to have very little cap space in 2019, per Over the Cap, and may have difficulty signing Bortles to a heftier extension if he plays well in 2018.
Of course, as mentioned, the argument against extending Bortles is that his strong play could be a blip in the radar. Extending Bortles now could lock the Jaguars into a simply average quarterback at a time when their defense looks Super Bowl-ready.
Furthermore, the Jaguars could look to upgrade at quarterback this offseason before Bortles’ option kicks in. This year’s free agent class is a talented one, with quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins and Drew Brees set to hit the market. With a talented offense and elite defense in place, the Jaguars may want to take a shot with a more proven quarterback.
The situation can only be complicated by how Bortles continues to play this season. The playoffs and the increased pressure will be an interesting barometer for Bortles and could help determine in which direction the Jaguars decide to move next year.