JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars' quarterback position in this look at the '18 offseason
2017 starter: Blake Bortles.
2017 reserve: Chad Henne.
2017 at a glance: Bortles started all 16 regular-season games for a third consecutive season, completing a career-high 60.2 percent of his passes for 3,687 yards and 21 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. He improved in several key areas, including decision-making and accuracy, and Head Coach Doug Marrone throughout the season praised his toughness and leadership. While Bortles threw key late interceptions in a midseason victory over the Los Angeles Chargers and a November loss at Arizona, his performances were key in crucial victories over Seattle (regular season) and Pittsburgh (postseason). He closed the season with back-to-back productive postseason games, throwing for 214 yards and a touchdown in a Divisional Playoff victory over Pittsburgh, and 293 yards and a touchdown in an AFC Championship Game loss at New England. He threw three touchdowns without an interception in the postseason.
Offseason storyline:This will be a key area to watch, with the Jaguars likely needing to decide on Bortles' future before the March 14 start of the league year. National reports have speculated the team will consider acquiring a veteran quarterback – with much of the speculation surrounding Washington Redskins quarterback and likely free agent Kirk Cousins. Bortles has one year remaining on his contract at $19.1 million. If he is on the roster after March 14, the $19.1 is guaranteed – meaning the team has the option of releasing Bortles before March 14, signing him to a restructured contract or having him play 2018 at $19.1 million.
Free agents as of March 14: Henne (unrestricted).
Oehser analysis:This storyline will dominate Jaguars conversation until the team announces a decision on Bortles' future. With Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith off the market because the Chiefs agreed to trade him to Washington, Cousins has become the likely free-agent target for the Jaguars – if they indeed opt to pursue a veteran quarterback – as well as several other quarterback-needy teams. Here's the crux of the Bortles-Cousins question: Is Cousins indeed a franchise quarterback worth the $25 million annual commitment it could take to win what likely will be an intense bidding war during the league's March 12-14 pre-free agency negotiating period? If the Jaguars believe Cousins is such a quarterback – and that he indeed is a significant upgrade over Bortles – then look for the Jaguars to purse Cousins heavily. If not, then the belief here is Bortles will be the Jaguars' starter next season – likely on the one-year deal for $19.1 million with an eye on negotiating an extension sometime next season if he continues to develop as he did last season. If Bortles is the Jaguars' quarterback after March 14, the guess here is they will select a quarterback somewhere in the draft. That could be early if an enticing prospect slips to them at the end of the first couple of rounds, but more likely it would be a more developmental player in the middle rounds.
Sexton analysis: I watched Bortles walk into the stadium recently with a cast on his right wrist, and reminded myself he was on the injury report every week last season. It would be too easy to simply remember he played without his most explosive weapon last season. That he also played injured speaks to his toughness, commitment and desire to win. Bortles was much better in 2017 than 2016; look at his completion percentage, impressive red-zone performance or the lack of back-breaking interceptions. Remember, too: he looked the part in December when he led receivers and thrashed the Colts, Seahawks and Texans. He was impressive in January when he matched Ben Roethlisberger drive for drive in the second half to win in Pittsburgh. The question: can he make similarly improvement in 2018? If the Jaguars believe he can, with an improved supporting cast, why bother with Cousins? Bortles has more playoff wins than Cousins, and Cousins never has been past the second round of the playoffs. If the Jaguars brass doesn't see Bortles growing beyond the formula they devised this season, perhaps the draft is the place to look for his eventual replacement. I don't see Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin parting with early draft selections; he knows trading the future for the present isn't a formula for sustained success. I fully expect Bortles to be the starting quarterback in September.