The idea that Blake Bortles' fourth season in the NFL would be pivotal for his career was validated Monday.
In what new Jaguars head honcho Tom Coughlin calls a "smart business decision," Jacksonville exercised its fifth-year team option on the quarterback's rookie contract. It would have been bigger news had the Jags decided not to do so.
"It makes sense for us going forward and it’s good for Blake and for the Jaguars," Coughlin said, via the team's release.
No, Bortles has not played particularly well through his first three seasons since he was drafted third overall in 2014 — 11-34 record as starter, 69-51 TD-INT ratio, average QB rating of 79.6. But the Jaguars are holding out hope that 2017, with additional help via free agency and last week's NFL Draft, could substantiate Bortles' high selection and status as their hopeful franchise QB.
Jacksonville does not necessarily commit to Bortles beyond 2017 when it picks up his option for '18. His salary is only guaranteed in the event of a serious injury and otherwise remains declinable after the 2017 season.
Jaguars QB Blake Bortles' 2018 option number: $19.053 million. It's guaranteed for injury only now, becomes fully guaranteed in March 2018.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) May 1, 2017
So, barring injury, the Bortles-Jaguars marriage will go in one of two directions this year: He plays well enough to earn a long-term contract extension in Jacksonville, or the Jaguars enter the 2018 NFL Draft (or free agency) with a new franchise quarterback in mind.
If the latter becomes the case, Bortles likely will have run out of excuses. The Jaguars' 2017 draft class earned a solid grade from SN's Vinnie Iyer in large part thanks to their obvious effort to support Bortles.
Their first-round pick, running back Leonard Fournette at No. 4 overall, was selected as the presumptive leader of a ground attack the Jags have lacked since Bortles arrived. Their second-round pick, offensive lineman Cam Robinson, is a run-blocking beast who should aid in said rushing attack. He also could do wonders protecting the quarterback who's been sacked 140 times in three seasons.
Add a fourth-round flyer in wide receiver Dede Westbrook and a free-agency class that, on paper, significantly improved the Jaguars' defense, and you get Bortles' best, perhaps only chance to succeed in Jacksonville. So why not give him the shot?
We'll know before the 2017 season's end whether Bortles passes or fails the test. (Ask Tyrod Taylor, Colin Kaepernick and/or Robert Griffin III why.) Healthy scratches toward the end of the season, given Bortles' injury guarantee for 2018, would mean the end of his Jaguars tenure.