The Jacksonville Jaguars’ decision to extend embattled starting quarterback Blake Bortles after the 2017 season came only after the team did extensive research on a possible signing of Kirk Cousins, league sources said, but they balked at the strength of that market. The Jaguars were fully prepared to offer Cousins a significant free-agent contract and move on from Bortles but were unwilling to spend close to where other teams were.
The Jaguars brass viewed Cousins as the best opportunity to upgrade at quarterback, the sources said, and were hopeful of being able to secure the free agent’s services in the range of the $20M-$24M he had been earning on the franchise tag with the Redskins. However, it became clear as they did their due diligence on the quarterback’s market that the competition for his services was going to be extremely stiff, with the Vikings, Jets, Cardinals and Broncos all serious about signing him. Before the Super Bowl it was clear that, with Alex Smith earning $27M a year on an extension with Washington after his trade there, and with numerous media reports indicating Cousins was going to earn upwards of $90M fully guaranteed, the Jaguars had a decision to make.
They were either going to have to entertain a deal worth close to $30M a year to have a chance to land Cousins, or continue to move forward with Bortles at around $18M a year, which he was in line for on the fifth-year option. It was then that they went ahead and finalized a pay-as-you-go, team-friendly extension with Bortles, who has been one of the NFL’s least productive and least effective starting quarterbacks since he entered the league in 2014. Bortles came at a drastically lower price tag in terms of annual salary and guarantees than Cousins. Bortles, who was benched at halftime of last week’s loss and has been struggling mightily since Week 3, could be released as soon as 2019 for a significant cash savings and designated as a post-June 1 cut to mitigate his dead cap.
The Jaguars made no attempts to upgrade around Bortles prior to the start of the season despite having numerous opportunities to do so via trades and signings. The Jets, league sources said, reached out to Jacksonville when they began to shop promising back-up quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, making the QB readily available. But the Jaguars displayed no interest in acquiring him. Bridgewater was viewed as an emerging potential franchise quarterback prior to suffering a serious knee injury in Minnesota and was dealt to New Orleans for essentially a third-round pick.
While he is due $6.5M in guaranteed money in 2019, that total is offset by whatever he signs with elsewhere, and even as a backup, a deal in the $5M range is not out of the question for Bortles. So the Jaguars very well could move on from him in the offseason. They have no intentions of making a trade for a quarterback before Tuesday’s deadline, as bringing in someone to learn a new system and teammates midseason is quite difficult, though journeyman Cody Kessler could get other opportunities to play if Bortles continues his descent.
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