The player the team drafted No. 3 overall in 2014 is at a career crossroads. Bortles set single-season franchise records in passing yards (4,428) and passing touchdowns (35) in 2015, but he really struggled in 2016. His mechanics were a mess, and he conceded he was essentially a basket case by the end of the season.
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley was fired and Doug Marrone and Tom Coughlin (executive VP of football operations) were hired. Owner Shad Khan gave Coughlin total control over football decisions, and Coughlin has not exactly given Bortles a ringing endorsement. GM Dave Caldwell is still a big Bortles supporter, which is understandable considering he was the one who drafted Bortles.
At the Senior Bowl, Caldwell told reporters he believes the Jaguars can win a Super Bowl with Bortles.
But if the Jaguars select a quarterback with the No. 4 overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night -- or at any point in the first or second round -- it'll be clear Coughlin doesn't share that opinion. Whether it's Deshaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky or Patrick Mahomes, their selection on Thursday or Friday by the Jaguars would signal the end of Bortles' tenure in Jacksonville.
That scenario would be a clear indication the team does not believe Bortles is the long-term answer at the position, so there would be no reason to keep him around. There would be no point in letting him compete to win the starting job. Unless you're in the situation Green Bay was when the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers in 2005 -- Brett Favre was the Packers' starter -- there would be no reason to keep Bortles on the roster. Cut or trade him as soon as possible.
It's a different scenario if the Jaguars take a quarterback after the second round. A quarterback drafted in the third or fourth round would not be an immediate starter as soon as he signs.
Even if the Jaguars don't take a quarterback until the third round or later, the team is likely not going to pick up Bortles' fifth-year option. Caldwell said last week the Jaguars won't make a decision until closer to the May 3 deadline, but he offered a hint of what the team might be thinking.
"That whole option thing is, to a degree, is a little bit overrated, to be honest with you," Caldwell said. "If you don’t exercise the option, especially in the top five or 10, you’ve got the franchise tag the following year, which is a little bit more. It's like $3 or $4 million [more]. I don’t know the exact number. You always have those tools without the risk, so those are some of the discussion and there’s a lot of other things that go into that, too. Those are things that we’re working through now and trying to decide what’s the best alternative for those.”
Players drafted in the first round sign four-year contracts, and the team has the option to pick up a fifth year. Players taken in the top 10 have salaries in their option years that are the average of the 10 highest salaries at their position. It would be guaranteed for injury only until the first day of the 2018 league year, when it would become fully guaranteed.
For Bortles, that fifth-year salary would be about $21 million to $25 million.
Bortles' future with the Jaguars remains unclear for now but will likely be clarified in the next few days.