JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — He might have just lost his job to Cody Kessler — a quarterback on Cleveland’s 0-16 team — but that doesn’t mean Blake Bortles’ career with the Jacksonville Jaguars is definitely over.
In fact, don’t be surprised if Bortles is still on the roster when the Jaguars begin training camp in 2019.
It’s all financial. The three-year, $54 million extension Bortles signed in February includes a $1 million roster bonus payable on the fifth day of the 2019 league year and guarantees $6.5 million of his 2019 salary.
In addition, the Jaguars would have to count $16.5 million in dead money against the salary cap if they cut Bortles before the 2019 league year begins, though that figure drops to $11.5 million after June 1. He has a salary-cap number of $21 million if he remains on the roster, so Jaguars management has to decide which is the lesser evil: Paying him to stay or paying $5 million less for him to not be on the roster.
That the Jaguars are in this situation with Bortles’ contract isn’t unusual. The team structures the majority of its free-agent contracts and extensions so that the bulk of the guaranteed money and dead money falls in the first two years of the deal. It keeps them from getting stuck paying an under-performing player way more than he’s worth.
Yet that’s where they are with Bortles because executive VP of football operations Tom Coughlin agreed to sign Bortles to an extension instead of pursuing Kirk Cousins or any other free-agent quarterback last year, and he opted to draft running back Leonard Fournette instead of a quarterback in the 2017 draft. That might go down as one of his biggest personnel blunders in his two tenures with the Jaguars.
The Jaguars likely can’t trade Bortles, either. What team would want to acquire a quarterback who has a big contract and the most turnovers (93) since the 2014 season began? Maybe the Jaguars can find a team willing to do what Cleveland did when Houston was trying to unload Brock Osweiler and his big salary in March. The Browns took on Osweiler’s $16 million guaranteed salary and two draft picks for a fourth-round pick so the Texans could save salary-cap space and $16 million in cash. The Browns cut Osweiler in September, and he’s now with Miami.
The New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts are projected to have more than $100 million in salary-cap space in 2019, but it’s hard to see the Colts doing the Jaguars a favor. Considering the Jaguars scored a late touchdown and went for two points with 25 seconds remaining in their 31-12 victory over the Jets in Week 4, the Jets aren’t likely to help, either.
As a result, Bortles could very well be on the roster next fall — but not likely as the starter. This year’s isn’t a great free-agent crop of quarterbacks — Tyrod Taylor, Teddy Bridgewater and Ryan Fitzpatrick appear to be the top three — but the Jaguars could opt for one as a bridge. Or they could take a QB in the first round of the draft, though this isn’t regarded as a very good quarterback class, especially if Oregon’s Justin Herbert opts to return to school.
The Jaguars could keep Bortles as a high-priced backup and cut him after the 2019 season, when he would cost the team only $5 million in dead money.
The Jaguars went all-in on the hope that Bortles would build on the best season of his career when they gave him that extension in February. That looks like a mistake for which they’ll be paying another year.