Blake Bortles

AFC Notes: Bell, Jags, Bosa, Michel

The Steelers are still hopeful that they can trade Le’Veon Bell and net a third-round pick or better in return before Tuesday’s deadline, per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. Bell, as we heard earlier this week, does not want to be traded, and given that he would need to sign his franchise tender before he can be dealt, he holds all the cards in that regard. La Canfora tweets that Bell (predictably) balked at returning to the Steelers on the exempt list, so there are still plenty of moving pieces to keep an eye on before this situation is finally resolved.

Now let’s take a quick swing around the AFC:

  • Blake Bortles played decently for the Jaguars during their loss in London today, but we heard earlier this week that the fifth-year pro is on a short leash after he was benched during last Sunday’s loss to the Texans. However, Albert Breer of TheMMQB observes that Bortles still took the lion’s share of first-team reps in practice this week (though Cody Kessler did get a few, as anticipated), so it does not appear that there is a quarterback competition at the moment.
  • La Canfora writes that the Jaguars were very much interested in Kirk Cousins last offseason and were prepared to offer him a significant free agent contract and move on from Bortles. However, they were not willing to meet the $30MM-per-year figure that Cousins ultimately got from the Vikings (they hoped to land him for something in the $20-24MM range). Instead, of course, they gave Bortles a pay-as-you-go, team-friendly extension, which allows the club the flexibility to move on this offseason if it so chooses.
  • Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette is expected to return to the field for Jacksonville’s Week 10 matchup on November 11 against the Colts, per Schefter.
  • It does not appear as if the Chargers will get Joey Bosa back for their November 4 matchup against the Seahawks, as they had been hoping for some time. Although Bosa is making progress, Schefter writes that he is not “anywhere near ready to play right now.” It is unclear when Bosa will make his much-anticipated return to the field, but the wait will carry until at least the second week of November.
  • Sony Michel returned to practice for the Patriots yesterday, per Mike Reiss of ESPN.com. While Michel will not play in the team’s Monday night contest against the Bills tomorrow, he may be ready to go against the Packers next week. Reiss adds that New England could promote Kenneth Farrow from the taxi squad for tomorrow’s game in order to give themselves three healthy backs.
  • The relationship between Browns HC Hue Jackson and OC Todd Haley is not improving, and one of the two could be relieved of his duties in short order.

Jaguars Won’t Trade For Eli Manning

Many have blamed Blake Bortles for the Jaguars’ slow start, but the team doesn’t seem focused on a quarterback upgrade. They won’t be trading for QB between now and the Oct. 30 deadline, Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com hears (on Twitter), and that includes Giants QB Eli Manning

Manning, of course, has history with Jaguars EVP Tom Coughlin, and the Jags’ football czar has tons of admiration for the player who helped him capture two Super Bowl trophies. However, the Jaguars believe that the arrival of Carlos Hyde and the eventual return of Leonard Fournette will balance out the offense and bring the best out in Bortles. Bortles has been shaky, to say the least, but the Jags believe that they need an adequately mobile QB to anchor their offense, and Bortles offers that.

Manning has an impressive resume, but he hasn’t been setting the world on fire this year either. The Giants are 1-5 on the year, and Manning’s inability to air it out may be the team’s biggest issue on either side of the ball. Through six contests, Manning has completed nearly 69% of his throws, but he’s been brought down in the backfield 20 times, putting him on pace for a dubious new career high.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jags To Start Blake Bortles Against Eagles

Blake Bortles will get his job back in Week 8. Doug Marrone announced Monday the longtime Jaguars starter’s run of first-string work will continue, despite being benched on Sunday.

Cody Kessler relieved Bortles in a loss to the Texans, but Marrone believes the fifth-year quarterback provides the Jags with “the best opportunity to win.” However, Bortles will have a “short leash,” per ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter).

Kessler will get reps with the Jags’ starting offense this week in practice, Schefter adds, but the job remains Bortles’. Kessler completed 21 of 30 passes for 156 yards in the Jags’ 20-7 home loss, their third straight defeat. Bortles fumbled twice and was yanked after completing just six passes. His 46.1 Total QBR sits 23rd in the NFL and is down considerably from last season’s mark. Bortles has thrown for 1,735 yards, with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions, this season.

This is obviously interesting given Jacksonville’s offseason. The Jags avoided the most extensive quarterback market in years and re-signed Bortles to an extension. While it wasn’t a big-money deal, at $18MM per year, the team didn’t add much in the way of competition for its maligned starter, only trading a late-round pick for Kessler. With the Jags still holding the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense, Bortles’ inconsistency continues to plague the team.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Dolphins, Bortles, Coleman

Frank Gore may be competing for touches with fellow running back Kenyan Drake, but that doesn’t mean the veteran isn’t impressed by his Dolphins teammate. In fact, Gore told Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post that he understands why the organization moved on from their former starter in order to give Drake more reps last season.

“I was like, ‘Man, I kinda see why they traded Jay Ajayi,’” Gore said. “He’s very talented. Jay Ajayi was a great back, too, but Kenyan is a very talented guy. He’s smart. He can do everything on the field. I think that me and him can really help this team be successful this year.”

Ultimately, Gore is expected to be a mentor to both Drake and fourth-rounder Kalen Ballage. Despite running for at least 850 yards for the 12th-straight season in 2017, the veteran is willing to have a larger impact off the field than on the field.

“People said that I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t (last) more than three years, and I’ve been blessed going into my 14th year,” the 35-year-old said. “Now I want to go out here and be successful, have fun and do whatever it takes with my team and try to get some wins.”

Let’s take a look at some more notes from around the AFC…

  • Blake Bortles is looking forward to his first healthy season in several years. The Jaguars quarterback told ESPN’s Michael DiRocco that he’s been tolerating a right wrist injury for several seasons, forcing him to have three cortisone injections in 2017. Bortles finally opted for surgery this offseason to repair a partially torn ligament on the outside of his wrist, and the 26-year-old said the operation helped him have the best offseason and training camp of his career. “When you do not have to worry about going to rehab or going to get treatment, you have to make sure you warm it up the right way, you have to take anti-inflammatory [medication] and do all of that stuff. … It is just a lot of process to be able to go out there and do what you should be able to do without any pain,” Bortles said. “To be able to do that now finally is pretty awesome.” Despite the injury, Bortles managed to complete a career-high 60.2-percent of his passes last season for 3,687 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
  • The Bills traded for former first-round wideout Corey Coleman last night, and Joe Buscaglia of WKBW.com believes the receiver could have an immediate impact on his new team. The writer points out that Kelvin Benjamin and Jeremy Kerley are the only two players locked in at the top of the Bills depth chart, and this was emphasized when the coaching staff add recently-recovered Andre Holmes to the first team during camp (Zay Jones has since recovered from his injury, as well). At the very least, Coleman will provide the Bills with unmatched speed, a skill set that the team’s fellow receivers are lacking.
  • When the Patriots released wideout Malcolm Mitchell earlier today, many assumed the former fourth-rounder was still battling a nagging knee injury. While that could be partly true, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets that the receiver was waived as a healthy player. This means Mitchell passed his final physical with the organization. After making six starts as a rookie in 2016, Mitchell sat out the entire 2017 campaign due to injury.

Blake Bortles On New Jaguars Contract

Rather than enter the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes or make a run at other starter-level players like Case Keenum, Tyrod Taylor or Sam Bradford, the Jaguars preemptively reached an extension agreement with Blake Bortles. He’s signed through 2020.

With Bortles having not shown much to indicate he’s capable of top-level quarterback play, the Jaguars look to be building around their defense. Bortles was on board with that strategy when it came time to negotiate his second Jags deal.

I think definitely the way the Tom (Brady) has done it is the way to try to model,” Bortles said, via Sirius XM Radio (Twitter link), of willingly taking a lower salary. “Having guys and putting pieces around him was definitely something. When you take up a ton of money you kind of limit your team and who they can help you out with and put around you.

I’m not naive enough to say that we don’t need a run game. We also need a good defense; we need good receivers; we need all these pieces. You can’t play as a quarterback and do it yourself so I’m more than willing to take less money than somebody else might in my position to put good guys around us.”

Bortles signed for three years and $54MM, with a $15MM signing bonus. His 2018 salary is fully guaranteed, and $6.5MM of his ’19 base salary is as well. With it costing the Jags $16.5MM in dead money to cut Bortles after this season, this deal ties the 2014 first-rounder to the team effectively through the next two seasons.

However, given the inconsistency he’s displayed in four seasons, it was unlikely Bortles was going to make much more than he did on this contract. He did want to remain in Jacksonville, something he hopes to do throughout his career.

I was like, ‘I don’t really care how much money it is. Let’s just get a deal done so I can go play football and have some security in a place that I got drafted,'” Bortles said during the interview. “It was huge for me to sign a second deal by the team that drafted me. To be able to play in one place your whole career is something I’ve always wanted to do. To be able to have that security for at least a little bit … I’ve still go to go earn it and play well in order to stay there.”

Bringing in Cody Kessler and sixth-round pick Tanner Lee, the Jags did not make a big outside investment at quarterback this offseason. So, Bortles doesn’t have much in-house competition this season — one that features the Jaguars in as strong of a competitive position going into it as they have been in many years.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

QB Notes: Brees, Cousins, Bortles, Draft

The Saints and Drew Brees have expressed mutual interest in maintaining their partnership going forward. While the future Hall of Fame quarterback is unlikely to leave when free agency opens, the team’s financial flexibility is greatly impacted if a deal is not reached by March 14, The Times-Picayune’s Josh Katzenstein writes.

If he is not signed by that date, Katzenstein notes Brees’ remaining three years on his contract will void and his remaining signing bonus will count for $18 MM in dead cap space. Knowing the situation the Saints are faced with, Brees and his team have a ton of leverage.

Brees, 39, is likely to look for a multi-year deal but the quarterback has mentioned taking his future one year at a time. Though his passing totals weren’t at the gaudy levels of years past, he was still an effective signal-caller, leading the league in completion percentage and ranking second in passer rating.

It is unlikely the two sides won’t come to an agreement by the deadline, but it is a story to follow.

Here’s more quarterback news from around the league:

  • The Broncos  have a meeting scheduled with Mike McCartney — agent to, among others, Kirk Cousins, Trevor Siemian and Richmond QB Kyle Lauletta — in Indianapolis while the two sides are in town for the NFL Combine, NBC 9 News’ Mike Klis reports. Per NFL tampering rules, the two sides can not discuss Cousins, but are free to talk about the latter two. Cousins is expected to be a top target of the Broncos once free agency opens.
  • Sticking with Cousins, the Vikings are expected to be strong contenders for the quarterback’s services NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reports (Twitter link). In the video clip, Garafolo says he has been told by sources “the whole way” that the Vikes are going to make a strong push for the prized free agent.
  • The Jaguars‘ contract to Blake Bortles is more about freeing up cap space for this year rather than rewarding or showing confidence in the quarterback, overthecap.com’s Jason Fitzgerald writes. “The Jaguars front office should know what Bortles is and I don’t anticipate that this contract will change the fact that they could consider drafting a QB or signing a decent player to be a backup who could be asked to start if things go bad. They really just needed cap space and to that end they did a decent job.”
  • If teams are looking to draft a developmental quarterback, two of the most intriguing names are Lauletta, the Senior Bowl MVP, and Washington State’s Luke Falk, Yahoo’s Charles Robinson tweets. Robinson also notes the Redskins president Bruce Allen went to Lauletta’s Richmond and is very familiar with the quarterback.
  • Though the Dolphins are committed to Ryan Tannehill being their starter in 2018, that does not mean the team won’t look to draft a quarterback with its No. 11 pick in the first round, the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson writes. He says the Dolphins were impressed by Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield in interviews at the Senior Bowl, though he is expected to be off the board by the time Miami gets on the clock.

AFC Notes: Dolphins, Bortles, Ravens, Chiefs

The Dolphins are “strongly” considering releasing offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James instead of paying his $9.341MM base salary in 2018, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. James, a former first-round pick, is under contract next season thanks to his fifth-year option, but given that his salary is non-guaranteed, Miami can get out of the deal with no penalty. While the Dolphins could speculatively be interested in retaining James at a reduced price, the 25-year-old has little incentive to accept a pay cut, as he’d immediately become one of the best tackles on the open market if he were to be released. Indeed, the top end of an extremely weak free agent tackle class includes Nate Solder, Justin Pugh, Cameron Fleming, and Chris Hubbard, so James would surely draw interest.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • Blake Bortles‘ new three-year deal with the Jaguars contains offset language, tweets Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com (Twitter link). Jacksonville inked Bortles to a $54MM extension over the weekend that includes a partially guaranteed ($6.5MM of $16MM) base salary in 2019. If the former first-round pick flops during the upcoming campaign, the Jaguars could release him next spring and still create $4.5MM worth of cap space. That figure could be even greater thanks to offset language, however, as the Jaguars would be off the hook for whatever salary Bortles hypothetically earns with his next club.
  • The Ravens and tight end-turned-offensive lineman Crockett Gillmore have mutual interest in new contract, reports Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun. Reports last week indicated Gillmore would transition to offensive line, and he’s apparently begun the change by packing on “considerable bulk” to aid the move. Baltimore, understandably, wants a “better gauge” of Gillmore’s physical condition, not solely due to his upcoming position switch, but because he missed the entire 2017 with a knee injury. Gillmore, 26, was always considered an outstanding blocking tight end while playing in the 250-pound range.
  • Cornerback David Amerson inked a one-year deal with the Chiefs earlier this month, and while Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star previously reported the pact has a base value of $2.25MM, Adam Caplan of SiriusXM (Twitter link) has now provided the contract’s specifics. Amerson, 26, receives a $500K signing bonus, a $1MM base salary, $625K in per-game roster bonuses, and a $125K workout bonus. The deal also contains unknown incentives which, as Paylor indicated, could bring the total value of the agreement to $6MM.
  • In desperate need of offensive line depth, the Bengals recently signed ex-Giants tackle Bobby Hart, but his contract details show that he’s not a lock for Cincinnati’s roster, as Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports (Facebook link). Hart got a $50K signing bonus and will collect another $200K bonus if he’s on the Bengals’ Week 1 roster. All told, Hart will be an easy cut for Cincinnati if he doesn’t prove his worth during the summer.

AFC Notes: Bortles, Jets, Patriots

The big news of the weekend broke last night, when the Jaguars and Blake Bortles struck an extension that will keep the former No. 3 overall pick in Jacksonville through the 2020 campaign. Bortles was already under club control through the 2018 season thanks to the fifth-year option that the Jags had previously exercised, but the new deal — which includes a fairly modest amount of guaranteed money — will give Bortles the ability to realize his potential in Jacksonville while not precluding the team from pursuing other QB options if it needs to. Plus, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reported this morning, Bortles’ cap number for 2018 will be reduced from the $19MM fifth-year option number to just $10MM, thereby giving the Jags more room to work this offseason (Twitter link).

Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter) adds more details on Bortles’ deal, reporting that the entire $26.5MM in guaranteed money is guaranteed at signing, that Bortles will get $20MM in the first year of the deal and $16MM in the second year, and that incentives like earning Super Bowl MVP honors can push the total value of the contract to $66.5MM.

Now for more from the AFC, starting with another item on Bortles:

  • Bortles played the entire 2017 campaign with a wrist injury, and he underwent surgery on the wrist after the season. Per Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com, the injury consisted of a partially torn ligament on the outside of the wrist and inflammation on the top of it, but Bortles said he is on schedule in his recovery and expects to be cleared with no restrictions in early March. Given what transpired last night, the Jaguars are obviously comfortable with Bortles’ progress.
  • The Jets are expected to be aggressive in the bidding for Kirk Cousins, but as Rich Cimini of ESPN.com observes, Cousins has compiled a meager 4-19 mark against teams with winning records, and Cimini says if the Jets view him as a savior and open up the vault for him, they are letting desperation cloud their judgment. In any event, New York should have a pretty good idea of where it stands with respect to its own free agents and players from other clubs (like Cousins) at the end of this week. The NFL scouting combine begins on Tuesday, and in addition to evaluating collegiate prospects, teams use that time to meet with player agents.
  • The Patriots are currently near the bottom of the league in terms of salary cap space, but with most of their key players under contract, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe says New England will have plenty of room to operate as it sees fit this offseson. Plus, as Volin notes, the team can add another $17MM of cap space by cutting ties with some obvious release candidates like tight ends Martellus Bennett and Dwayne Allen. Volin also lays out a roadmap for the rest of the Pats’ offseason, which includes keeping Rob Gronkowski happy, re-signing Nate Solder, and letting Malcolm Butler walk.
  • We learned yesterday that the Steelers and Martavis Bryant may be headed for a parting of the ways.

Jaguars Sign Blake Bortles Through 2020

The Jaguars look to be out of the market for a quarterback agreeing to a three-year, $54MM contract extension with Blake Bortles, which includes $26.5MM guaranteed and could reach $66.5MM in total with incentives. The team confirmed the move Saturday night (Twitter link).

“Blake’s growth and development last season was a key to the success we had as a team,” said Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin said in a team release. “Blake has proven, with toughness and dependability, that he can be the leader this team needs going forward. Along with this contract come high expectations that he will continue to improve and help our team accomplish its ultimate goal.”

ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported the terms of the deal and ESPN colleague Josina Anderson first reported that the two sides were working on a deal. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com was first to report the deal could be done as early as Saturday night.

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With the incentives in the deal, Bortles could make up to $22.5MM annually over the next three seasons. Without the incentives in place, the deal would net Bortles $18MM per year, placing him right behind Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill ($19.25MM) in average annual salary. The 49ers made Jimmy Garoppolo the highest paid player in the NFL on average annually this offseason at $27.5MM.

Bortles, 25, was already under contract with the Jaguars for 2018 and was due to make $19MM as the team picked up his fifth-year non-guaranteed option last May. But Bortles’ reported new deal will keep him in Jacksonville through 2020 and eliminates a team from a crowded group that’ll be seeking new quarterbacks this offseason.

Schefter points out that the extension gives the Jaguars a chance to see if Bortles can flourish into the player they imagined when they selected him third overall in 2014. It also gives them an extended chance to seek out other long-term options at quarterback with Bortles under contract. ESPN’s Field Yates also identified that Bortles is the first player from the 2014 draft class to receive an extension. Players such as Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald and Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack could join Bortles in that aspect in the near future.

The Jaguars made it to the AFC Championship last season with Bortles under center and were winners of the AFC South, snapping a nine-year postseason drought, but he’s dealt with consistency issues throughout his career. Bortles has started all 16 games in each of the last three seasons for the Jaguars. He threw a career-low 13 interceptions in last year’s regular season while completing a career-best 60.2% of his passes. Bortles also underwent right wrist surgery this offseason, confirming the move Saturday (Twitter link), with the injury reportedly affecting him starting in December 2016.

As for as the receiving corps Bortles will be working with, top targets Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson are both set to hit unrestricted free agency this offseason. The team still has the likes of Allen Hurns and Dede Westbrook under contract for next year, along with tight end Marcedes Lewis.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jaguars Planning To Keep Blake Bortles?

A report emerged on Monday night indicating Blake Bortles underwent surgery on his right wrist, an operation that could cloud his physical once it comes time for his fifth-year option to vest.

However, the Jaguars may not have notions of releasing a healthy Bortles under consideration. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (video link) the Jags’ plan is to keep Bortles for 2018 and give him a fifth year as their starter.

This would take Jacksonville out of the mix of quarterback suitors this offseason and may help explain why this surgery, which was known to be required last offseason, was tabled until recently. The 2018 option decision being a non-factor would allow a Bortles recovery to unfold on a normal pace as he gears up to help his now-championship-contending team come September.

The Jags were mentioned throughout this season as one of the key quarterback destinations, given their loaded defense and Bortles’ issues over his four-year run. While he put together two strong games against the AFC’s top two seeds in the playoffs, the 25-year-old passer has been wildly inconsistent over the course of his time in north Florida.

Reports last season involved Jaguars HC candidates not having to commit to him as a starter for 2017. Unreliability led to Bortles’ brief benching during the preseason and prompted many to speculate the Jags would try to pair a more reliable quarterback with their dominant defense.

The former No. 3 overall pick would enter a contract year if retained this season. Should the Jaguars reverse course, and Bortles be healthy enough to pass a physical en route to a release, the quarterback would be an interesting name on the market.

Of course, Bortles’ salary skyrocketing from $6.57MM to $19MM will limit Jacksonville’s options in free agency. The team’s been active on the market for years, and some recent decisions helped the team to its first AFC South title and first conference title game berth since 1999. While Bortles was viewed as more of a game manager during the regular season, throwing for 3,687 yards and sporting a 21-to-13 TD-to-INT ratio, his performance during the second half of the campaign and in the playoffs may have convinced Jags management he can get the team to the next level.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.