JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It’s clear the Jacksonville Jaguars have made the decision to move on from Blake Bortles as their starting quarterback. Finding his replacement is the team’s No. 1 priority this offseason.
Who could it be? Here’s a look at some options.
Eli Manning: If the New York Giants decide to part ways with Manning — they can do that with only $6.2 million in dead money — and draft a quarterback, he would be a natural fit because of his connection with Tom Coughlin, Jacksonville’s executive vice president of football operations. Manning has completed a career-high 69 percent of his passes and thrown 14 touchdown passes and seven interceptions this season, but he turns 38 in January and his arm strength and skills have deteriorated significantly.
Joe Flacco: It looks like the Baltimore Ravens could be ready to move on from the player who helped the franchise win Super Bowl XLVII, and the Ravens could save $18.5 million by designating him a post-June 1 release or trading him after June 1. A trade would mean the Jaguars would take on his $26.5 million salary-cap figure in 2019, which means they would be investing as much as $44 million in cap space at quarterback (Bortles has a $16.5 million dead cap figure if he’s released before June 1 and $11.5 million after. Cody Kessler counts $912,000 against the cap). Flacco, who turns 34 in January, would be a good fit because he still has the arm strength to drive the ball down the field (something Coughlin lamented was missing from the offense) and remains a 60 percent passer.
Ryan Tannehill: Coach Adam Gase inherited Tannehill, and the Miami Dolphins might want to move on after this season, but acquiring Tannehill via trade (the Dolphins would have to eat $13.5 million in dead money to release him) would mean assuming his $18.7 million base salary and $26.6 million cap hit (sixth highest in the league) in 2019. It’s similar to the Flacco situation in that it would mean the Jaguars would have more than $40 million wrapped up in salary-cap space at quarterback in 2019. Tannehill would be only 31 in July, so he could have a longer future with the team beyond a year or two.
Nick Foles: His contract with the Philadelphia Eagles is structured in a way that he can essentially buy his way into free agency after the season by sacrificing some of his contract value (he would have to return a $2 million signing bonus to void the club option for 2019). Foles played very well in the postseason, but was pretty pedestrian in the regular season after Carson Wentz was injured, and the Jaguars need some consistency at the position. They already spent the past several seasons not knowing what to expect out of Bortles every week.
Jameis Winston: It’s unclear if Winston remains part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ long-term plans. The Bucs picked up his fifth-year option and can cut him without owing him anything provided he passes a physical. He has been a disappointment on the field the past two seasons and there are off-field concerns (he just reached a settlement with the Uber driver who said he groped her in 2016).
Ryan Fitzpatrick: He subbed for Winston at the beginning of the season and tore it up before struggling and getting benched. He’s probably the best of the free agents and that might drive his price up to $10 million or more. He just turned 36, so the Jaguars would be lucky to get two seasons out of him. He does like to throw the ball downfield, though, and that’s something the Jaguars wanted Bortles to do more regularly.
Other free agents include Josh McCown, Tyrod Taylor, Teddy Bridgewater, Geno Smith, Robert Griffin III and Matt Barkley. Bridgewater might be the most intriguing, but there’s uncertainty about whether his knee can hold up over the course of the season. He wasn’t a dynamic down-field passer, either.
The rookie class
The two biggest traits the Jaguars want is accuracy and good decision-making. Turnovers have been Bortles’ biggest issue. He leads the NFL in turnovers (93) and interceptions (74) since he entered the league in 2014, yet he also is second in franchise history in passing yards (17,500) and passing touchdowns (103) in 72 starts.
Oregon’s Justin Herbert is generally regarded as the best quarterback in the 2019 draft class — provided he decides to forgo his senior season. The Jaguars might have to trade up to get him, because the Giants and possibly Oakland (which both are currently ahead of the Jaguars in the draft order) might be drafting quarterbacks.
Missouri’s Drew Lock, Duke’s Daniel Jones, NC State’s Ryan Finley, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, and West Virginia’s Will Grier are some of the other top quarterback prospects who could be taken in the first few rounds. If the Jaguars opt to bypass quarterback with their first pick, one of these players should be available in the second round.