It has finally happened! After a brief benching in-game the week before heading to Wembley Blake Bortles has officially been benched to start the next game. Bortles benching comes on the back of a seven-game losing streak and eight losses in the last nine games. After Nathaniel Hackett was fired earlier in the day he stated he thought he was going to discuss a quarterback change. Instead, at that exact moment, Hackett was fired, and then hours later Bortles was also benched. This decision may seem inconsequential given the Jaguars 4-8 record. However, that is not the case if we start thinking about next year and beyond.
Let’s start by taking a look at why the Jaguars have made this decision and then take a look at what it means for the future.
A Season Unraveling
After four weeks the Jacksonville Jaguars were flying high. They had a 3-1 record and had handed the New England Patriots a statement loss in Week 2. Bortles had seven touchdowns to three interceptions but his season was already a roller coaster. He threw for just 176 yards in Week 1 and 155 in Week 3. However, in Weeks 2 and 4 he threw for 376 and 288 respectively. That is when things started going wrong.
Heading into Kansas City to play a defense with more holes than a leaky bucket Bortles threw for 430 yards and a touchdown. However, he completed just 54% of his passes and threw four interceptions. Including that game Bortles has thrown seven interceptions in the last seven games but has just six touchdown passes. However, his performance against the Bills was the final straw.
Bortles threw two interceptions, including one which set up the game winning field goal for the Bills. He managed just 127 yards on 23 passes with a 46.8 passer rating. That performances comes just a week after he threw for just 104 yards in a game against the Steelers where it was clear the Jaguars did not trust him.
Has His Performance Dropped Off From Last Year?
We have already seen how his performance has dropped off between the first four games and the last seven. However, what about if we compare his 2018 numbers to last year and then the rest of his career?
On an initial glance you would not think much has changed this year:
When you look at those numbers he is slightly worse than last year in terms of interceptions and touchdowns. However, completing passes and in terms of yards per attempt and yards per game he is actually out performing last season. The comparison to his career is a little unfair as he had a bad rookie season. In addition, in Year 5 you would expect him to be outperforming what he had done in the first three years by a lot more than he is.
Is It All His Fault?
Yes and No. He makes a lot of bonehead decisions and he gets rattled easily. That is on him for sure. He does not seem to be learning from mistakes and does not look to be significantly better than he was in his first couple of years.
However, he has not had the support he had last season. The run game has struggled this year with Leonard Fournette out and the defense has not dominated in the same way it did last season. In addition, he is under pressure a lot more this season. Last season he was 14 points above the average when it came to be sacked. This season he is two points below average. That is a big swing and his sake rate is up 2.4% and back close to what it was in his second season.
Finally, he also has a complete lack of talent at the wide receiver position. However, good quarterbacks elevate the talent around them and he is not doing that. It is not all his fault but he has not exactly inspired confidence.
The Cap Situation
To try and work out where the Jaguars and Bortles go from here we need to go back a few months. Bortles was injured late last season and the injury meant he would not pass his physcial at the start of the league year. Injury was the only thing that ensured that the $19 million owed to Bortles in his fifth year option would be guaranteed. The Jaguars needed some of that cap space to add pieces to their team. Therefore, they negotiated a new contract with Bortles, reducing his cap hit to $10 million.
Obviously that comes at a price and that price is a messy cap situation next season. If Bortles is on the roster next season he will count $21 million against the cap, a whopping 11.1% of the cap. So why not cut him I hear you ask. Well if cut Bortles will count $16.5 million against the cap and he will not be on the roster. Is Bortles that bad that you would rather save $4.5 million and not have him?
Beyond that the cap situation is clearer. If the Jaguars cut Bortles before 2020 then he would only count $5 million against the cap instead of $23 million. Therefore, unless he transforms his play next year his career in Jacksonville will certainly end after next season.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The issue is that there are no obvious answers. There are not many stand out quarterbacks expected to be in this years draft meaning the Jaguars would be silly to reach for one just to have one. Given they are likely stuck with Bortles either way then they may as well try and add other offensive weapons in the draft and bring in a later round quarterback and a free agent to compete with Bortles in camp. That would give them one final year of an audition with Bortles. He would have new weapons, perhaps extra offensive line help, a new offensive coordinator and possibly a new head coach. I am not expecting miracles but for the sake of an extra $4.5 million I am not sure why they would not keep him on the roster this summer.
I am afraid to say Jaguar fans that it looks extremely likely Bortles will be a Jaguar next season and perhaps even their starting quarterback.