THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — He knew he wouldn’t be the starter, and the temporary practice facilities certainly did not lure him.
Blake Bortles signed with the Los Angeles Rams in free agency because he saw the same thing the rest of the NFL saw the past two seasons: Rams coach Sean McVay has ignited the league with a prolific offense, helped spring players to MVP-caliber seasons and propelled assistant coaches to head jobs.
“Everybody kind of wants a piece of what he’s doing,” Bortles said.
Bortles isn’t interested in coaching yet. He also isn’t interested in sticking around L.A. for the long term. The plan is to soak up everything McVay can offer, back up Jared Goff as he leads the pursuit of another trip to the Super Bowl and then find a job as a starting quarterback somewhere else.
“I want to get an opportunity to start in this league and go do that again, and I think in order to do that, this is the best step,” Bortles said. “Being here around McVay and helping Jared, kind of taking a year to do whatever I can to better myself.”
For the Rams, signing Bortles to a one-year, $1 million deal was a no-brainer after they let backup Sean Mannion walk in free agency.
“When you’re kind of in the phase that we are, we do want to continue winning and having a quarterback who’s been there, done that,” general manager Les Snead said. “Definitely helps if you ever have to go to the bullpen.”
After the season, Bortles signed a three-year, $54 million contract extension that was expected to keep him with the team through the 2020 season. But he experienced an uneven season last year and was benched as the Jaguars finished 5-11. The organization signed quarterback Nick Foles in free agency and released Bortles while owing him $6.5 million on his contract.
In five seasons, Bortles finished 24-49 as a starter. He passed for 103 touchdowns, with 75 interceptions, and completed 59.3% of his passes.
“When you look at the production over the course of his career, a guy that has played in some big-time games, has some athleticism and some different things that we like,” McVay said. “To be able to get a player of his caliber to be able to come in and be willing to be a backup … he’s kind of got that charisma and presence that you expect from a quarterback, where you can’t help but say, ‘I like this guy.'”
Goff, who is entering his fourth NFL season, had an established relationship with Bortles before he signed with the Rams. The two share an agent and have spent previous offseasons working out together in Orange County. Now they live across the 101 freeway from each other, often grab dinner and enjoy golf outings together.
“I’m excited to continue to grow with him and work together,” Goff said.
Bortles said he and Goff are able to discuss their NFL experiences and share ideas.
“It’s good back-and-forth banter on, ‘What do you think here? Have you seen it before? What did you do in the past?’ type stuff,” Bortles said.
In his preseason debut, Bortles completed three of eight passes for 50 yards in a loss to the Oakland Raiders. McVay said the numbers were skewed by several dropped passes by receivers. A week later against the Dallas Cowboys, Bortles finished 7-of-11 for 62 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s been making great decisions,” McVay said. “I think he’s getting a great command on what we’re trying to do offensively. Then I think some of the things that show up that’s been really one of his great traits is just his overall athleticism. In some of these practice settings, you can’t tackle the quarterback, and I think his ability to use his legs and be able to create off schedule, whether it’s throwing the football or running it, using him in some instances as a runner.”
Bortles did not play in the Rams’ third preseason game and is not expected to play in the fourth.
“We felt like he has done a good job of really establishing himself as the clear No. 2,” McVay said. “If it was a situation where he hasn’t played a lot of football — but when you look at it, all right, what’s really to gain?”
Since Goff became the starter with seven games remaining in his rookie season, he has not missed a game because of injury, though he did not play in Week 17 of 2017, as McVay chose to sit starters with a playoff berth secured.
It’s possible that Bortles’ two brief preseason appearances are the only ones he’ll make as a Ram. For now, it remains uncertain whether his decision to sign as a backup will result in another chance to start.
But Bortles isn’t second-guessing the move.
“I thought from the time I made the decision, until now, and all the way through, that it was the best choice for me and my career and I think gives me the best opportunity to get back to being a starting quarterback in the NFL,” Bortles said. “So right now my role is to do what I can to help this team win, help Jared, better myself as much as possible.
“If I get a chance to play again, great. If not, then I’m gaining experience in that role at practice as a backup.”