Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, who at one point had some people convinced that he would be good, has done just about everything possible to lose his starting job this summer. His preseason contributions have been a series of sad and bewildering lowlights, he’s been quietly cursed by at least one receiver during practice, and his coach is struggling to come up with even a half-hearted vote of confidence.
Here’s something that indicates head coach Doug Marrone’s patience with Bortles is waning: Chad Henne has been named the starter for the Jags’ third preseason game, a contest which traditionally signals who is on track to begin the regular season as the starter.
A bad team shuffling one bad quarterback in place of another isn’t huge news, but Bortles’s stumble has been particularly sudden and steep. He was the third overall pick in 2014, and after a rookie season in which he threw 11 touchdowns and 17 picks in 14 games, he seemed to make a leap of sorts in his sophomore year. He finished that season with 35 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, and 4,428 yards. Then everything went to hell in 2016, as ESPN’s Bill Barnwell neatly sums up here:
Bortles fell off from 2015 to 2016, but not by quite as much as some have suggested, with his QBR dropping from 55.8 to 49.2. More concerning was the visible mechanical decline. The Jags had originally planned on giving Bortles a redshirt year in 2014 to “fix” his mechanics, but things never got right. He worked with biomechanics guru Tom House during the 2015 offseason, but once the wheels come off in 2016, Bortles looked like no other quarterback in the league. His footwork went south, while his release and arm action turned into a Rube Goldbergian nightmare. The guy who looked like a dream NFL quarterback seemingly turned into Byung Hyun-Kim with the ball in his hands.
This offseason brought another round of stories about Bortles once again working hard to fix his mechanics, but based on how he’s looked in the first two preseason games, not a lot of progress has been made. Now Bortles’s old college coach is saying ominous things about his former player’s mental fortitude (via The MMQB):
“He had a real problem a year ago, dropping the ball down below his right hip to throw—that obviously slows down your release time,” says Taaffe. “It appears that aspect is fixed, not dropping the ball like he was.”
“I think his issue at this stage is more that six inches between his ears than anything,” Taaffe says. “I think it’s a mental thing now. ...
Bortles is having a rough time, but this summer has perhaps been even more embarrassing for the Jaguars than it has for him. In May, the Jags decided to pick up Bortles’s fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which has him slated to earn $19 million in 2018. This is a move a team usually makes when they believe they have finally found their quarterback of the future; the Jags’ quarterback of the future just lost his job two weeks into the preseason.
The fifth-year option further complicates Bortles’s chances at potentially winning his job back. That $19 million is guaranteed for injury only, meaning the Jags are only on the hook to pay it if Bortles gets hurt so badly this season that he can’t pass a physical next offseason. That’s a relatively small risk that any team is willing to take if they believe a player still has some potential to offer, but if Bortles’s value has effectively been zeroed out before the season even starts, it’s not impossible to imagine the Jags taking the financially safe route and planting him on the bench for 17 weeks before cutting him next summer. (If they cut him this year it will cost them about $6.6 million in dead money.) Having him locked into that big of a salary for 2018 also makes him almost impossible to trade, as not many teams are in a position to take a flyer on a reclamation project who will cost $19 million.
In the span of a few weeks, Blake Bortles went from getting paid, to losing his job, to possibly losing any chance at getting his job back because he got paid. Again, it’s been a rough summer for him.