JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell watched quarterback Blake Bortles prove critics wrong in 2017 and he’s looking forward to that happening again in the next three seasons.
Caldwell said the three-year contract extension for $54 million ($26.5 million guaranteed) that runs through the 2020 season gives Bortles another chance to show that he can be the long-term franchise quarterback the Jaguars envisioned when they drafted him third overall in 2014.
The Jaguars were pleased with Bortles' play in 2017 -- 21 touchdown passes, a career-low 13 interceptions and a career-high 60.2 completion percentage -- and they believe he’ll make the same kinds of strides in the next three seasons. People may not believe that now, Caldwell said, but they didn’t believe Bortles would do what he did last season, either.
“The narrative about him and the perception about him is much different,” Caldwell said at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. “We based our decision on facts. If you look at his stats through his first four years, everyone said, ‘Well, he’s doing it but they weren’t winning many games.’ Now we’re winning games and everyone’s like, ‘Well, his stats aren’t what they should be.’ All I’ve heard was we can’t have a winning season with him. We can’t make the playoffs. We can’t win the division. We’re going to be one-and-done in the playoffs. He’s just proven them wrong.
“He’s not a placeholder. This wasn’t a decision where he’s going to be here for a year and we’re going to be keeping our eyes out [for a replacement]. We’ll always look to upgrade our team everywhere, but this was a decision for the future of that this is a guy that can grow into the guy for the long term.”
The Jaguars’ decision to sign Bortles to the contract extension buys them extra time for that. It also creates additional space in the team’s salary cap. Instead of a $19.053 million cap figure for 2018, Bortles’ cap number is $10 million. That savings, plus rollover money, gives the Jaguars approximately $28.5 million in cap space.
That’s more than enough for the Jaguars to re-sign receiver Allen Robinson and nickel back Aaron Colvin if they choose, Caldwell said. It’s especially important for the Jaguars to get Robinson back into the fold because he’s the only downfield playmaker on the roster at this point. Whether that means a multiyear deal, a one-year incentive-laden deal, or the use of the transition or franchise tag, the team is expected to begin serious negotiations this week.
That was a factor in Bortles' decision to sign the extension, Caldwell said.
“It is a good deal for us,” Caldwell said. “For us, we look at our cap, our adjusted cap number, and it is less than 5 percent of our adjusted cap number. We feel like that is a good portion to put for your starting quarterback and it allows us the financial flexibility to take care of other positions, which Blake made it clear that he wants to try to keep this team together as much as possible.”
Bortles had a rough start to the 2017 season -- he had a five-interception practice in training camp and coach Doug Marrone opened up the quarterback competition during the preseason. But he rebounded and helped lead the Jaguars to a 10-6 record and the AFC South title -- the franchise’s first division title since 1999 -- and the team made the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 season. The Jaguars beat Buffalo at home and Pittsburgh on the road to reach the AFC Championship Game against New England at Gillette Stadium.
The Jaguars held a 10-point fourth-quarter lead before the Patriots rallied for a 24-20 victory.
Bortles completed 58 percent of his passes for 598 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in the postseason. He also ran 17 times for 121 yards, including 88 yards in the victory over Buffalo. He led a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives to help the Jaguars beat the Steelers 45-42.
The Jaguars were expected to be major players in the bidding for quarterback Kirk Cousins but surprised many around the league by sticking with Bortles. Though it’s a three-year deal, the Jaguars can move on with little penalty after the 2019 season. All that would cost them is $5 million in dead money, and while that’s not ideal it’s certainly manageable.
“I think Blake has shown during the year that he was progressing, getting better,” Marrone said. “Obviously when you give a player a contract now, we are looking for more, which we always are. No different than any other position. We need to come in and we need to play better than we did before.
“I think with the continuity of the staff, having gone through the year, not losing anyone, and then for Blake having the same continuity with coach [Nathaniel] Hackett as his offensive coordinator, Scott Milanovich as his quarterbacks coach, we are looking to see great improvement from him going into this next season.”