They did it on Wednesday, cutting the five-year veteran while conceding that his streaky up-and-down play and high rate of turnovers were holding the franchise back from consistently competing for the playoffs.
The Jaguars were never quite sure what they were going to get from Bortles. Even with the large amount of dead money against the salary cap ($16.5 million/$11.5 million as a post-June 1 designee), they had to start over at the position and will do so with Nick Foles.
It would be hard to find an NFL player who took as much verbal abuse — from the Jaguars’ own fans and opposing players such as Jadeveon Clowney, Jurrell Casey, Vontaze Burfict and Earl Thomas — as Bortles. Yet what he accomplished in Jacksonville means he deserves to be remembered in higher regard than being considered trash, a subpar quarterback.
Bortles leaves the Jaguars as one of the two best quarterbacks in franchise history. He’s second all-time in attempts, completions, passing yards, touchdown passes and 300-yard passing games, trailing only Mark Brunell. Bortles also owns single-season franchise records for attempts, completions, passing yards (4,428) and passing TDs (35). No other QB in franchise history has thrown for more than 30 TD passes in a single season.
Most importantly, though, Bortles deserves credit for playing his best when it counted the most: In the playoffs.
Bortles is the only QB in franchise history with a winning playoff record (2-1), and while his numbers aren’t overly impressive in those three games (57.6 percent completions, 594 yards and three TD passes) he was perfect when it comes to arguably the most important playoff stat. He didn’t turn the ball over.
No player has committed more turnovers (94) and no quarterback has thrown more interceptions (75) in the regular season than Bortles since he entered the league in 2014, but Bortles did neither in victories over Buffalo and Pittsburgh and the loss to New England. Brunell, who was 4-4 in eight playoff games, had 10 TD passes and 10 interceptions. Byron Leftwich threw no TD passes and one interception in his only appearance and David Garrard threw three TD passes and three interceptions in two games.
Don’t forget Bortles made several key throws against Buffalo and Pittsburgh. He hit Ben Koyack on fourth down for the game’s only touchdown in the Jaguars’ 10-3 victory over the Bills. He also connected with Keelan Cole for a 45-yard gain to set up a Leonard Fournette TD run and threw a 14-yard TD pass to Tommy Bohanon in the fourth quarter of the Jaguars’ 45-42 shootout victory over the Steelers at Heinz Field.
For all the weird interceptions — a ball that bounced off T.J. Yeldon’s foot and another that bounced off A.J. Cann’s helmet — and batted passes at the line of scrimmage, Bortles delivered big-time in the 2017 postseason. Were it not for a bad call, Bortles and the Jaguars would have played in Super Bowl LII.
Here’s something else to consider about Bortles: He is one of only 19 quarterbacks since 1990 to throw for more than 100 touchdown passes in their first five seasons in the NFL, per ESPN Stats & Information. Some of the names on the list to also do that: Peyton Manning (138), Andrew Luck (132), Matt Ryan (127), Russell Wilson (127), Matthew Stafford (109) and Brett Favre (108). Joe Flacco (102), Kurt Warner (101), and Ben Roethlisberger (101) rank below Bortles on the list. Warner and Favre are in the Hall of Fame, and Manning and Roethlisberger will join them someday.
Granted, Bortles has the most losses (49), is tied for the most pick-sixes (13) and has the second-worst QB rating (80.6) of those 19 QBs. He’s also one of only three QBs on the list to not make a Pro Bowl (Ryan Tannehill and Aaron Brooks are the others). All that is part of his streaky play, but more than 100 TD passes in five seasons is a significant feat.
Bortles never became the elite quarterback the Jaguars hoped he would when they drafted him third overall in 2014 and he had some pretty bad moments, but he should be remembered for much more than that.