Blake Bortles signed a new 3 year, $54 million contract, $26.5 million of which is guaranteed, which of course had many questioning what the Jaguars were thinking. Bortles career has largely been disappointing though he did play better down the stretch this season. Already the deal is being lumped in with the Brock Osweiler and Mike Glennon mistakes and while its fair to jump to that conclusion the circumstances are really very different.
The Jaguars were already in a bad position with Bortles because of a poor decision made to pick up a 5th year option worth slightly over $19 million. The $19 million was guaranteed for injury and would become guaranteed on the 1st day of the 2018 league year in March. Once Bortles needed surgery after the playoffs that injury guarantee was going to protect him from release. So the Jaguars were more or less stuck with his contract.
As most people know the Jaguars are one of the freer spenders in the NFL. Almost every year in free agency they try to make a splash and coming off their first playoff season in a long time its anticipated that they will be back in the mix for a big free agent or two in 2018. That requires cap room. They also have to decide what to do with receiver Allen Robinson and the franchise tag could be in play there which would cost $16 million.
With Bortles lingering on the salary cap the Jaguars would have had around $20 million in cap space to use in free agency, the draft, and whatever else they need to use it on. For a team used to working with a big salary cap budget that isn’t much. So in reality the extension for Bortles was about creating salary cap space moreso than rewarding a player or wanting to show confidence in him.
The move reduced Bortles salary cap charge by about $9 million for 2018 which gives the Jaguars much needed breathing room as they prepare for free agency. Since Bortles was already on the books for a guaranteed $19 million the new contract only adds an additional $7.5 million in new compensation to the contract. $7.5 million is about what you would pay a low level starter. At the same time it gives the team two new contract years for about $17.5 million a season which is actually cheap if Bortles plays well.
What if Bortles flops? Like I said its just a $7.5M gamble, $1 million of which was paid this year, leaving them $6.5 million to account for next year. That’s why I don’t read into the cap figure for next season that much. If he fails the most he is going to earn is $6.5 million. If he wants to stay in Jacksonville the team will negotiate him down to that number and let him compete for a job or play a season as a high priced backup. A long as they negotiate the salary down odds are another team would considering trading for him at that price or, at worst, a few million less. So the $7.5M gamble is probably closer to a $3M gamble. Sure the salary cap charge for releasing him next season is high ($16.5 million if they have to cut him), but for Jacksonville it’s about 2018 not 2019. Far better to gamble on a young quarterback than to kick the can on Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson who are older players.
I like the idea for the Jaguars because it was finding a way to make the most out of a bad situation. While I may not be as high as others on the team, if they feel they have a strong opportunity to get to the Super Bowl, you do what you can to get there. These opportunities don’t present themselves often unless you have one of the few elite QBs in the NFL, which Jacksonville doesn’t. And in the grand scheme of things it makes far more sense to waste a few million on a QB to open up cap room than to just throw away $6.5 million like they did when they signed Chris Ivory or others to questionable contracts.
So I don’t think its that big of a deal. Its not something that should create a catastrophic situation like the Texans with Matt Schaub a few years ago or the Osweiler contract. 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.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.