- Bortles’s time in Jacksonville is running out. Tom Coughlin, Doug Marrone and the Jaguars must make some moves before the upcoming trade deadline if they want to save their season.
The Blake Bortles Era is not over just yet in Jacksonville, but with his benching during the Jaguars’ 20–7 loss to the Texans on Sunday, there’s little doubt that the quarterback and the team are not long for one another.
Each time the Jaguars have gotten close to pulling the trigger on moving on from the former No. 3 pick, Bortles has found a way to play himself back into his starting role. But the obvious move cannot be ignored any longer: Jaguars czar Tom Coughlin must make a deal for a quarterback now—before the Oct. 30 trade deadline—in order to save the season for the Jaguars and take advantage of an extremely winnable AFC South. To not sign or trade for a quarterback now would in essence forfeit a trip to the postseason.
Bortles’s play has duped Jacksonville decision-makers long enough. He was a turnover machine through his first two seasons, but the Jaguars lived with it. In the 2017 preseason, coach Doug Marrone was ready to install Chad Henne as the starter, but Henne couldn’t play well enough to win the job the Jagaurs were trying to give to him. So Bortles spent the 2017 season handing off to Leonard Fournette and doing his best not to turn the ball over—and that was good enough to let the Jagaurs defense carry the team to the AFC title game.
Coughlin treated Bortles to a three-year extension worth up to $54 million in the offseason—a deal that essentially translates to the very least you could pay a player of Bortles’ caliber coming off a season where he almost captained the franchise to its first Super Bowl.
When I visited Jacksonville during minicamp, every defensive player I spoke with talked glowingly about Bortles; it almost as if they were determined to only have positive things out there about their quarterback. The situation was the same in Week 2 after the win against the Patriots—teammates used the game as proof-positive that Bortles is exactly what they’ve espoused. He had sharpened his iron against an elite defense every day in training camp, they’d say, and so his in-game success shouldn’t come as a surprise.
But that 31–20 win over New England, when Bortles played the game of his career—29-of-45 passing for 376 yards and four touchdowns—may have done more harm than good to the Jagurs in the long-term. Bortles’s play in the win delayed what inevitably happened on Sunday by six weeks.
He followed up the Patriots’ performance with a loss against Tennessee where he managed 12 first downs all game. Last week he topped that with just 10 first downs against the Cowboys in the 40–7 shellacking. Bortles was 6-of-12 for 61 yards and zero points Sunday against the Texans before Marrone finally, mercifully, pulled the plug on him in favor of Cody Kessler. (Yes, the Cody Kessler who started eight games for the Browns last season before getting traded to Jacksonville this spring for a conditional seventh-round pick.)
The question now becomes who should quarterback the Jaguars, so let’s take care of the two names that probably first popped into your mind. For more than a year rumors have circulated that Jacksonville should trade for Eli Manning. He’s a shell of himself and is clearly weighing down a Giants team with generational talent at running back and wide receiver, but he’s better than Bortles. Maybe a reunion with Coughlin coupled with the change of scenery will help Manning lift the Jaguars to the AFC South crown.
But Manning has won the Giants two Super Bowls and, according to a least one voter, is a first-ballot Hall of Famer (we can argue that at a later date). The fuss surrounding Ben McAdoo’s decision to bench Manning last year would pale in comparison to trading him away. And all of that is before you even get to what the compensation would look like or whether Manning would waive his no-trade clause.
If you’re still in the camp that believes Colin Kaepernick will eventually get a job in the NFL again, you would believe he’d be an option for the Jaguars. He is, inarguably, the best available free-agent quarterback. He would certainly augment Jacksonville’s run-first offense, and his career interception rate of 1.8% is second-best in NFL history.
But Jacksonville is a city with a strong military presence. And Jaguars owner Shad Khan was among a group of NFL owners who donated $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee. If Kaepernick is to ever play in the NFL again, it’s difficult to see him landing in Jacksonville.
And so Coughlin needs to get creative quickly. There’s nine days between Bortles’ benching and the trade deadline. Houston, at 4–3, sits atop a bad AFC South, and the 3–4 Jaguars still have their second game of the series with the Texans.
A second consecutive division title and trip to the postseason is right in front of the Jaguars, but Coughlin has to make the move now.