The Jacksonville Jaguars came into the season with astronomical expectations. It was going to be the year they broke through and made the playoffs in a weak AFC South. Blake Bortles was going to continue to develop into a franchise quarterback with a bevy of weapons on the outside, two talented backs to hand the ball to and a defense that was loaded with young talent.
After 12 weeks, the Jaguars are now 2-9 and look even worse than they did a year ago. Gus Bradley’s seat is scorching hot as a result, but he’s far from the team’s biggest issue.
Blake Bortles takes the cake in that regard. Sunday’s loss further proved that to be evident.
Against the Bills, who were without cornerback Ronald Darby for much of the game, Bortles completed 13 of 26 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged a measly 4.8 yards per attempt, and while it was a plus that he didn’t throw an interception, it’s just the third time this season (10th in his career) that he didn’t throw a pick.
Sure, Bortles was hurt by the fact that Allen Hurns had a drop deep downfield, and that Allen Robinson was barely out of bounds on a would-be 22-yard reception, but the same issues were there in Bortles’ game.
He misfired on a couple of deep passes, overthrowing his receivers by a good amount. More importantly (and worrisome), his throwing motion is still as bad as it was when his team completely fell off a few weeks back. Bortles inexplicably brings the ball down towards his hip when he gears up to throw, making it not only difficult to throw with accuracy, but making it easier for defenders to knock the ball out of his hands.
He’s been nothing short of a massive disappointment for the Jaguars this season, and although he’s not the only reason they’re 2-9, his alarming regression at quarterback is a huge concern for the Jaguars going forward.
It’s not just a problem for Jacksonville’s all-but-over 2016 campaign. His lack of development has to worry the Jaguars in the long run, so much so that they should begin to think about a possible replacement for Bortles next season.
Bortles is currently in his third NFL season, which is about when quarterbacks take big steps forward. Derek Carr has this season, Ryan Tannehill did in his third year, and Andrew Luck threw a career-high 40 touchdowns in Year 3. So what gives with Bortles, who’s now completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes and has a passer rating below 80? The Jaguars should be asking themselves that.
He’s been surrounded by plenty of talent, from Hurns to Robinson to Marquise Lee to Julius Thomas. He just hasn’t taken the proper steps to improve, and has instead regressed in his development as a pro quarterback. The offensive line has struggled and impacted his game, but he’s not the only quarterback to face that issue. Luck, Tannehill and Russell Wilson all have poor offensive lines, too.
Moving on from Bortles next season won’t be easy, especially considering the options that will be out there – or the lack thereof, to be frank. They won’t spend another first-round pick on a quarterback with Bortles under contract, nor will they have much to wade through in free agency. But if Bortles continues to struggle and lack the necessary development to transition to a franchise quarterback, why stick with him? Blaine Gabbert only lasted three years in Jacksonville, and Bortles could do the same.
He’ll carry a $6.57 million cap hit next season. If he’s cut before June 1, the Jaguars won’t save any money and will be forced to eat that same amount of money as dead cap. It’s not ideal, but for a team with an abundance of cap space, it doesn’t prevent them from making necessary moves in free agency.
The biggest caveat with regards to his future in Jacksonville will come next year when the Jaguars have to decide on his fifth-year option. They opted not to pick up Luke Joeckel’s option, and Bortles could become the second in as many years to be denied it. Or at least he should be.
Unless Bortles can improve as a quarterback – not as a dual-threat one who runs for 81 yards as he did Sunday – the Jaguars will have no choice but to move on from him. Tony Romo will likely be on the trade market in the offseason, and while he probably doesn’t want to go to Jacksonville, he could potentially replace Bortles for the desperate Jaguars.