If the Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t going to consider a quarterback who has taken a team to a Super Bowl and a conference championship game, then Blake Bortles is the only real choice.
If Jacksonville isn’t going to do due diligence on former 49ers passer Colin Kaepernick, the way it did due diligence on defensive end Greg Hardy, then the beleaguered Bortles is the best bet.
Jags head coach Doug Marrone announced early Saturday that Bortles will start Week 1 against the Texans in Houston. It was a surprise, considering there was buzz that Bortles would be cut after a woeful preseason performance against the New England Patriots. He has been erratic for more than a year, and his contract requires the team to pay $19 million in 2018 if he’s injured this season. But Chad Henne’s milquetoast performance Thursday against the Carolina Panthers made it fairly clear that starting the 32-year-old backup would only invite defenses to gang up on rookie rusher Leonard Fournette and force Henne to beat them. That isn’t likely to result in a playoff run.
Bortles wasn’t strikingly better against the Panthers’ backups on Thursday, but he showed flashes of what made him a franchise quarterback before last season’s alarming drop-off. He had one pretty touchdown throw into the corner of the end zone, and one interception that wasn’t his fault. He’s also quicker on his feet than Henne – an oft-underrated part of Bortles’ ability.
Most important, Bortles gives more of an opportunity to a talented group of receivers, foremost among them Allen Robinson, who has star potential. If an offense isn’t giving Robinson and Allen Hurns frequent looks, then it’s wasting their talents.
Asked by reporters on Saturday if Bortles’ accuracy is good enough, Marrone replied simply: “Good enough to say he gives us the best chance to win.”
Bortles gets a lot of the blame for his struggles, and understandably so, but the Jags had a chance to draft a quarterback to push him this fall, whether Deshaun Watson with their first-round choice or Jacksonville native Nathan Peterman later. They declined and now here we are. It’s Bortles or bust.
A case can be made that Kaepernick is better than Bortles and Henne. He threw 16 touchdowns against four interceptions in 11 starts last year, with a passer rating of 90.4. He ran for 207 yards. Bortles threw for 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 16 starts last season, with a 78.8 rating and 197 rushing yards.
There are, of course, reasons the Jags wouldn’t call Kaepernick. They may not want to deal with the fallout from anything the outspoken quarterback has said or might say about racial inequality, police brutality or other social issues that spurred him to kneel during the national anthem a year ago. Jacksonville is a military town, proudly so, and Kaepernick is considered by many to be unpatriotic and anti-police. Beyond that, Kaepernick is a mobile quarterback and could be dismissed as a poor fit in the Marrone offense for that reason. Marrone, however, said on Saturday that Bortles’ ability to extend plays behind a wobbly line was a factor in his decision.
Jags owner Shad Khan threw some cold water on the belief that Kaepernick has been blackballed by the league when he told a local radio host Thursday that he would “absolutely” welcome the quarterback if front-office executive Tom Coughlin and Marrone recommended it, and in an interview this week with Yahoo Sports, Khan said of the quarterback situation, “That is a key position and we’re finding our way. I’m glad we’re looking at who can help us win.”
The Jaguars do not have to be a rebuilding project anymore. “We got everything here to win now,” Khan said. The team has what could be a strong defense with rising talent Jalen Ramsey, and Fournette will be a force if he’s anything like what he showed at LSU. In the past, Bortles was relied on to lift the whole team. Now he must simply play a reliable and helpful part.
He can still do that more effectively than any other passer on the Jags roster.