JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Blake Bortles might not be the long-term answer in Jacksonville.
He is, however, the short-term solution.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are finalizing a three-year, $54 million deal with Bortles that will keep him under contract through the 2020 season, according to a person with knowledge of negotiations. The deal includes $26.5 million guaranteed. The person spoke to The Associated Press on Saturday on the condition of anonymity because the deal has not been completed.
The move comes one day after the Jaguars handed out two-year extensions to top executive Tom Coughlin, coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell.
Keeping the 25-year-old Bortles is an indication how the front office and coaching staff feel about their current roster: They want to keep as many pieces in place for another run at the Super Bowl.
The Jaguars (10-6) won the AFC South for the first time in team history and made the playoffs for the first time in a decade. They advanced to the AFC title game for the first time since 2000, losing to New England 24-20 after having a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Bortles showed signs of progress in his fourth year despite playing 19 games with a wrist injury that required surgery last month. He completed a career-high 60 percent of his passes for 3,687 yards, with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
He played in the first year of coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s system and with four rookies — including running back Leonard Fournette and left tackle Cam Robinson — on offense. He also lost top target Allen Robinson on the opening series of the season opener.
So the Jags believe Bortles’ best years are ahead. But they aren’t committed to him beyond the next few years.
Jacksonville picked up the fifth-year option in Bortles’ rookie contract last May, guaranteeing him $19 million in 2018 if he’s on the roster the first day of the league year in March.
Team owner Shad Khan took a not-so-subtle shot last month at everyone who questioned the decision.
“Maybe we’re not the biggest idiot on the football block,” Khan said. “When his option was picked up, it was like, ‘What are these guys smoking?’ You’ve got to stay the course. …
“He’s from the area, he’s a nice guy. He’s talented. He’s stayed healthy. He’s not a China doll. We are invested. We want him to be successful.”
Extending Bortles should give the team more cap space heading into free agency. The Jags entered the day with about $20 million to spend in 2018.
They freed up $3.6 million by cutting backup running back Chris Ivory on Friday and could gain $7 million more by parting ways with backup receiver Allen Hurns.
There had been plenty of speculation the Jaguars would turn to free agency or the draft to replace Bortles. The Jags sent a strong message by moving to lock Bortles weeks before free agency.
Still, Bortles has flaws to fix. He need to be more accurate, especially in tight spaces, and has to be better adept at getting the offense out of bad plays and into better ones.
Regardless, he outperformed expectations when Marrone and Coughlin built the offense to pound the ball on the ground, take advantage of play-action passes and avoid shootouts with stout defense.
Bortles’ toughness was another reason he gained respect in the locker room and from the coaching staff. He hasn’t missed a snap because of injury and handled constant criticism — including almost weekly shots from fellow players — in stride.
Even more important to the Jaguars, Bortles avoided game-changing mistakes. Entering the 2017 season, Bortles had as many victories (11) as interceptions returned for touchdowns. He turned the ball over a career-low 16 times last season after averaging 21 in each of his first three seasons.
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