Jaguars still married to Blake Bortles in 2019

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Quarterback Blake Bortles might regain his starting job for Sunday's game against Philadelphia in London.

He also might not take another snap this season.

But one thing is all but certain: The Jacksonville Jaguars are not cutting the third overall pick in 2014 after the season.

The three-year contract extension he signed in February pretty much guarantees Bortles will be around in 2019. He is scheduled to have a $21 million cap hit in 2019 and has a dead-money figure of $16.5 million -- which would be higher than the salary-cap figure of any other player on the roster. The Jaguars would essentially be paying more to not have Bortles than to have any other player currently on the roster.

That might be a moot point if Bortles responds the way he did when he got benched last season. That happened after Week 2 of the preseason and he beat out Chad Henne the following week and went on to have the best season of his career. That's definitely on Bortles' mind this week as he and Cody Kessler compete to win the job.

"You keep your head down and keep working," Bortles said. "That's all I've ever done my whole life. It's all I really know how to do. I think it's the only thing you can do in this situation. Show up with a positive attitude and get ready to play next week. Whether I play or not is not up to me so I'll be ready to go."

Bortles threw for 3,687 yards and 21 touchdowns with 13 interceptions and 16 total turnovers in 2017. He played turnover-free football in the postseason and helped the Jaguars reach the AFC Championship game. His play against Buffalo, Pittsburgh and New England in January is the main reason the Jaguars signed him to a three-year, $54 million extension that included $26.5 million in guaranteed money.

Bortles has actually completed a career-high 61.2 percent of his passes this season for 1,674 yards and nine touchdown passes, but he has committed 11 turnovers (eight interceptions) -- eight of which have come in the past three games.

That's why Marrone benched him on Sunday in the 20-7 loss to Houston at TIAA Bank Field. Kessler also fumbled once (left tackle Josh Walker recovered) and had a pass bounce off T.J. Yeldon's hands for an interception, but he also got the offensive moving and led them to their only touchdown.

"I'm really hoping that it [the benching] sparks him," defensive end Calais Campbell said of Bortles. "We all know what Blake can do; he's had some incredible games. We just have to get him going. I don't know what's going to happen. But at the same time, I do believe that if he's going to be called upon, he's got to get it going. He can and he will, and I believe in him."

Kessler has eight starts in his career, all with Cleveland in 2016. He went 0-8 but completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 1,380 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions. His 92.3 rating that season is higher than Bortles had in any of his first four seasons.

"It is tough to win in this league," Kessler said after completing 21-of-30 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown with an interception against the Texans. "It is tough to make plays. It is tough to continually be dominant.

"... It is tough each week. You have to make plays when they are there. It comes down to situations also. I think a big part of that is protecting the football, whether it is me or Blake [Bortles], whoever is in there, wide receiver, running back, anybody. It is a tough league, and you have to come each week ready to go."

If the Jaguars do decide to go with Kessler for the rest of the season, that still doesn't clear up the quarterback question beyond this season. Kessler isn't the long-term answer, so the Jaguars would need to find another starter via free agency or through the draft.

The list of free-agent quarterbacks is pretty light: Tyrod Taylor and Teddy Bridgewater are the top options, unless the Jaguars are willing to gamble on Brock Osweiler or 36-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick. The top-rated quarterbacks on most draft analysts' boards at this point are Oregon's Justin Herbert and Missouri's Drew Lock, with West Virginia's Will Grier coming in third.

The Jaguars would likely need to have a top-10 selection to get their pick of quarterbacks, but if the offense continues to struggle the way it has the past three weeks (just 28 points in losses to Kansas City, Dallas and Houston) that's exactly what's going to happen.

Right now, though, the Jaguars need to figure out which quarterback will start against the Eagles.

"I have no idea [if he'll start]," Bortles said. "I'll do the same thing I've always done. Show up, work, prepare and get ready to go and work as hard as I can. If I play, I play. If not then I'll do whatever I can to help this team."