There will be no more wondering just how good the Jacksonville Jaguars could be with a quarterback more dependable than Blake Bortles. There will be no more speculating that the Jaguars might push aside Bortles next month and enter the free agent bidding for Kirk Cousins.
If the Jaguars are going to be a Super Bowl team moving forward, it will have to be with Bortles at quarterback.
The Jaguars recommitted themselves Saturday to Bortles as their quarterback — and removed themselves from the pending Cousins sweepstakes — by agreeing with Bortles to a three-year contract extension worth about $54 million, a person familiar with the situation confirmed.
The deal includes about $26.5 million in guaranteed money and clarifies Bortles’s situation in Jacksonville. He already was under contract for the 2018 season after the Jaguars exercised the fifth-year option in his original rookie deal at a cost of just more than $19 million. Bortles’s new contract replaces that deal and runs through 2020.
But until Saturday, Bortles’s status with the Jaguars remained unclear. That fifth-year option was guaranteed only against injury, and he underwent wrist surgery following the Jaguars’ run to the AFC championship game. His $19 million salary for next season would have become guaranteed if he’d been unable to pass a physical by March 14, the first day of the new league year. But if Bortles remained healthy, the Jaguars still could have opted to move on and make a change at quarterback — perhaps by chasing Cousins, the three-time 4,000-yard passer for the Washington Redskins, who can become an unrestricted free agent in March.
None of that matters now. Bortles will be in Jacksonville, and Cousins will be somewhere else.
Bortles’s solid postseason may have convinced football boss Tom Coughlin and Coach Doug Marrone that the franchise can take the next on-field step with Bortles at quarterback.
The playoffs began badly for Bortles, as he actually had more rushing yards (88) than passing yards (87) in a first-round triumph over the Buffalo Bills. But he settled into a groove from there, playing very well in the Jaguars’ AFC divisional round win at Pittsburgh and pushing the Patriots to the limit in New England before losing, 24-20. In those two games, Bortles completed a combined 37 of 62 passes for 507 yards with two touchdowns and, most importantly, no interceptions. Bortles’s teammates repeatedly expressed their support for him during the postseason.
“He has a huge heart,” defensive end Calais Campbell said after the 45-42 victory over the Steelers. “He’s very competitive. I’ve got so much respect for him. He came out here and played his heart out. I’m proud of him. We know we can do some great things.”
Bortles spent the playoffs saying he was not bitter about the amount of criticism that had come his way.
“I’m just happy to win,” he said. “I have no animosity toward anybody that’s ever said anything. I’m happy to be able to come here and do this with this team, happy to be able to continue to play for another week. There’s a lot of guys sitting at home on the couch watching this that I’m sure [are] wishing they could play. I know in past years, I’ve been. So to continue to have an opportunity to go play is pretty awesome.”
The Jaguars are taking a risk. Bortles’s NFL career, to this point, has followed a one-step-forward, one-step-backward pattern. He has totaled 64 interceptions in his four NFL seasons. He threw 13 of them this past season to go with his 21 touchdown passes. The Jaguars are a built-to-last contender, with young talent all around their often dominant defense and Leonard Fournette coming off a productive rookie season at tailback. They need Bortles to remain the reliable quarterback he was against the Steelers and Patriots, without reverting this time. They can’t afford to be wrong.
The field of potential bidders for Cousins now appears to include the Bills, Denver Broncos, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings. He still seems likely to land the richest contract in league history, surpassing the five-year, $137.5 million deal that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo just signed to remain with the San Francisco 49ers.
But he won’t be replacing Bortles in Jacksonville as the prospective final piece to a Jaguars’ effort to reach a Super Bowl.
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