Now that the 2017 season has ended for the Jaguars, a critical decision has moved immediately to the top of the to-do list. What to do with quarterback Blake Bortles?
As a top-10 pick in 2014, Bortles is entitled to a fully-guaranteed fifth-year option of $19 million for 2018. The Jaguars can avoid that only by cutting him on or before the start of the league year in March.
They could sign him to a long-term deal with $19 million as a starting point. They could choose to pay him the 2018 salary and kick the can for a year, setting the stage for a franchise-tag face-off in 2019. Or they could cut him before the money becomes guaranteed, thrusting him into the open market before the market officially opens and hoping to re-sign him to a multi-year deal reflected by the interest, or lack thereof, in his services.
There’s a fourth option: Cut him and move on to someone else. Someone they would trust to do something other than take a knee twice with 55 seconds left in the first half of an AFC title game. Someone who could chew time off the clock late in the fourth quarter of a championship game with a three-point lead. Someone who could lead the team down the field with a four-point deficit and a Super Bowl berth in the balance.
Only the Jaguars coaches and front-office staff fully appreciate the lengths to which the offense went to accentuate Bortles’ strengths and conceal his weaknesses. Only executive V.P. of football operations Tom Coughlin knows whether and to what extent Bortles compares favorably at this point in his career to Eli Manning, who has shown not once but twice that he can do what needs to be done to deliver victory against New England in a fairly big spot.
Whether it’s Bortles or Eli or someone else, the most important position in pro football becomes the most pressing question for the Jaguars. And if they pick the right one, they could be one of the two teams getting ready for Super Bowl LIII, only 52 weeks from now.