Posted on June 6, 2017, by Travis Pulver
Teams in professional sports tend to go through cycles. They will be good and competitive for a while. But as their talent ages or seeks a bigger payday elsewhere they become less competitive. Tack on a few draft misses and overpaid free agents that don’t pan out and they become cellar dwellers.
But then they find a few draft gems, pick the right guys in the early rounds, and get lucky with a few free agents and suddenly they are competitive again.
Of course, some teams spend more time enjoying being good while others linger in the cellar more than they should. The Jacksonville Jaguars have certainly remained in the basement long enough but can’t seem to figure out how to get out of it.
They’ve been drafting in the top ten of the first round since 2008 and inside the top five since 2012. Three are already out of football (Derrick Harvey–No. 8 pick in 2008; Eugene Monroe–No. 8 in 2009; and Justin Blackmon–No. 5 in 2012). Three have are no longer on the team (Tyson Alualu—No. 10 in 2010; Blaine Gabbert—No. 10 in 2011; and Luke Joeckel—No. 2 in 2013).
Last year’s first round pick Jalen Ramsey (No. 5 pick) had a good rookie season. Dante Fowler’s rookie season was lost to an injury (No. 3 pick in 2015). As for 2014’s first round pick, Blake Bortles (No. 3), well—the jury is still out on whether he was a wise selection.
Quarterbacks often get much more credit than they deserve, but to be fair, the also get much more of the blame as well. But with Bortles coming to the end of his rookie contract soon, the Jaguars are going to need to figure out whether they want to stick with him or hitch their proverbial wagon to a new horse.
After a strong sophomore season (4428 yards, 35 touchdowns, 18 interceptions) that had many thinking he had turned the corner, Bortles flopped last season (3905 yards, 23 touchdowns, 16 interceptions). When it came time to decide if they wanted to exercise his fifth-year option, many didn’t think the Jaguars should have (but they did).
But are the Jaguars not winning because of Bortles? Depending on how you want to interpret one stat—yes. According to a recent ESPN post, of the 69 touchdowns that Bortles has thrown during his career to date, only five of them had come when the team had a lead.
To put that number into perspective, over the last three seasons the leaders in that category are Tom Brady (60), Aaron Rodgers (45), and Ben Roethlisberger (43). Twenty-six other quarterbacks have at least ten.
The other members of the five and under club are Josh McCown, Mark Sanchez, Brock Osweiler, and Trevor Siemian. They all played in 21 or fewer games; Bortles played in 33.
Now, that stat can be taken as an indictment of what Bortles fails to bring to the team. But it can also be viewed as just how bad of a team the Jaguars are. Yes, the quarterback deserves a lot of the responsibility for the success and failure of the offense. But it is not just his fault.
His top four receivers (Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee, and T.J. Yeldon) ranked inside of the top 70 in percent of dropped passes last season. Hurns ranked No. 15 on the list after dropping 7.9 percent of the passes thrown his way (six of 76 passes).
The running game wasn’t much better. Out of 392 rushing attempts, 43 ended with the ball carrier getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Whether it was the fault of the running back or poor blocking, one thing is for sure. The blame does not belong to the quarterback for that.
Jacksonville’s defense didn’t help out much either. The unit allowed opposing teams to score on 39.3 percent of their drives (75 of 191; 9th most). With teams having an average of 11.4 drives per game last season that means the Jags defense gave up points on at least four or five possessions a game.
The issues with the Jags lie beyond whatever shortcomings Bortles has. They need help in several aspects of the game. They hope they got it this time via a free agent spending flurry–again.
For the second season in a row, the Jags are leading the NFL in free agent spending ($172.2 million; $224.5 million in 2016). In 2015, they spent the second most on free agents ($176.4 million).
So—will the Jaguars get it right this year? Chances are—no. Yes, they picked up a running back the world expects to be a stud in Leonard Fournette and spent a fortune on free agent talent again. But what’s to say Fournette’s over the injury issues that plagued his final year in college. They’ve spent a fortune on free agents before too.
Of course, a new season is also a chance for a new beginning—and anything can happen (just don’t count on it).