The Jacksonville Jaguars, who have been in denial about their quarterback situation for the better part of this decade, finally admitted they had a problem when head coach Doug Marrone benched Blake Bortles during the Jaguars’ 20-7 loss to Houston on Sunday. Bortles, who lost his second fumble of the day on his first drop back of the second half, was replaced by Cody Kessler, a signal-caller whom Jacksonville acquired from Cleveland during the offseason in exchange for a seventh-round pick. It was the 26th time Bortles has had multiple turnovers in a game since he entered the league in 2014, the most in the league in that span per ESPN Stats & Info. After the game, Marrone said that the turnovers were “disappointing” and that the team’s quarterback situation “is open.”
The Jaguars finally seem to recognize what has been obvious to everyone else for years: Blake Bortles is not an NFL-caliber quarterback. But what took so long?
After being drafted third overall by Jacksonville in 2014, Bortles went 11-33 as a starter and threw 64 of his 69 passing touchdowns while the team was losing. During training camp in August 2017, just three months after the team exercised Bortles’s fifth-year option for $19 million, they held a quarterback competition between him and Chad Henne. His teammates seemed to want him to lose the job. Even last season when the Jaguars surprised everybody by winning 10 games and making the AFC championship, the team succeeded in large part by removing Bortles from their game plan as much as possible.
Jacksonville’s 2017 game plan was to grab an early lead, protect it by forcing opponents to throw against a ferocious pass rush and a talented secondary, and then kill the clock on offense with Leonard Fournette. In those games, when Bortles just had to hand the ball off, the Jags were fantastic, going 10-2 in the 12 games in which they scored first. In every other scenario, though, the team struggled. According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, the Jaguars in 2017 were the most efficient offense in football in the first quarter but just 21st in the rest of the game, and their defense was the second worst in efficiency when losing by more than a touchdown. Any time the Jaguars needed to rely on Bortles, they were doomed.
Despite all of that, the Jaguars extended Bortles this offseason for three years and $54 million, and were rewarded with more mediocre play. Bortles has made all the same mistakes in 2018 that he made earlier in his career. He’s made bad reads ...
3 defenders around, Bortles lobs it to his receiver anyways. lol pic.twitter.com/GVjPltLKtS— New Account (@ftbeard_17) October 14, 2018
... bad decisions …
… and, of course, bad throws.
The Jaguars that nearly made last year’s Super Bowl are now 3-4 and a game (and a head-to-head loss) behind the Texans in a winnable AFC South. Some of Jacksonville’s decline is due to injury— Fournette has been fighting a hamstring injury and has played only two games this year and backup Corey Grant is on IR with a foot injury. But the team’s formerly formidable defense has regressed, too. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who did a ton of talking in August, hasn’t backed it up this season and has gone from a 91.3 overall Pro Football Focus grade in 2017 to 72.8 in 2018. A defense that was second in turnovers and sacks last season is now tied for 28th and 18th in those categories this year, respectively.
The Jags still have a shot at the playoffs, but it’s unclear who will be leading them toward the postseason. Just hours before Sunday’s game, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Jaguars were not considering trading for a quarterback.
“The Jaguars believe that the quarterback position is the least of their issues,” Schefter wrote. “More disconcerting to them is the fact that they have been one of the most injured teams in the league.”
Injuries heal, but the scars of watching Bortles throw footballs into his offensive linemen’s heads do not. If the Jaguars want to compete, they’ll need to either pray that Kessler can lead them to the promised land (he can’t), or acquire a quarterback in a trade, whether it’s Tyrod Taylor, Josh McCown, Eli Manning, or literally anybody else that can throw a spiral.
There’s a strong argument that none of the quarterbacks available to Jacksonville are the right answer for this team. But at this point, it’s clear that Bortles is not the answer either.