Jaguars appear all but certain to draft a quarterback

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If it wasn’t clear before the past three days, it should be by now: The Jacksonville Jaguars are all but certain to draft a quarterback in April.

Likely not in the first round and not to usurp Blake Bortles as the starter, but at some point in the three-day draft process the team is going to take one. They pretty much have to since Bortles is the only quarterback on the roster and they failed to sign someone to be his backup once the 2018 league year began at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday.

“We realize we have to address that,” general manager Dave Caldwell said on Thursday. “We have a plan in place.”

Caldwell declined to be more specific about the plan, but he admitted that the backup quarterback does not necessarily have to be a veteran. That doesn’t rule out the team signing one of the remaining available free agents, but it also doesn’t mean the team has no issue with having a rookie back up Bortles this season.

It could be both, with the Jaguars opting for a veteran as protection against a Bortles injury as well as a player to develop and potentially take over as the starter in 2020 if Bortles fails to make the strides the team wants him to make.

It’s not exactly a great list of veterans still available. Jay Cutler, Matt Cassel, Mark Sanchez, Matt Moore and Geno Smith top the list. Chad Henne, who has spent the past six seasons with the Jaguars, is no longer an option after he signed with Kansas City on Friday.

The team may still add a veteran -- though there are no reports of any visiting at this point -- but there is no rush for the Jaguars to do so in the next few weeks. The offseason conditioning program doesn’t begin until April 16, and the first two weeks are limited to strength and conditioning and rehab only.

The Jaguars can sit back, let the market settle and then -- if they choose -- sign a veteran on a reasonable deal.

The Jaguars are committed to Bortles as the starter in 2018 and 2019. Remember, Caldwell said at the scouting combine that Bortles “is not a placeholder,” so taking a quarterback in the first round would be puzzling since they still have needs that must be addressed (right tackle, tight end, linebacker). One of those players would be more immediate help to a franchise that was 10 minutes away from a Super Bowl than a quarterback who is going to sit on the bench.

So unless the Jaguars make a surprise move and put together a huge package to move up into the top 10 or 15, they’re not going to have a shot at the top group of quarterbacks. The second tier, which includes Lamar Jackson, Mason Rudolph, Luke Falk, Kyle Lauletta and Chase Litton, is their wheelhouse, and the Jaguars can get one of those players in the second or third round.

Even if the Jaguars do sign a veteran before the draft, it’s still likely the team drafts a quarterback. It’s good to have a developmental player in the fold with an eye to the future.

“We’ll let you know when we cross that bridge,” Caldwell said.