Signing QB Blake Bortles must be the New York Jets’ next move

blake bortles

As the start of the Zach Wilson era hits a bit of a snag, Aaron Rodgers’ arrival allows the New York Jets to right a glaring wrong.

As Moonrise Kingdom, Meatballs, and the never-ending Friday the 13th franchise taught us…what’s summer camp without a little chaos?

The New York Jets’ proceedings, which began Tuesday morning on One Jets Drive contain an aura of slight spookiness. Touted franchise quarterback/savior Zach Wilson has yet to report to the team, the only player on the Jets’ roster who has yet to arrive in Florham Park. Wilson, the second overall pick of last spring’s NFL Draft, is one of two first-round picks that have yet to sign with the team that drafted him, joining fellow thrower Trey Lance in San Francisco. The BYU alum’s Instagram story hinted that he is still in his home state of California as the Jets’ first camp practice looms on Wednesday.

Per ESPN’s Rich Cimini, contract offsets appear to be the point of contention between Wilson and Gang Green. Offsets offer a team relative insurance if they cut a high-profile draft pick prior to the end of his original four-year deal. A similar discussion temporarily delayed the start of the Sam Darnold era, as the previous franchise quarterback missed New York’s first three practices before inking his deal.

Head coach Robert Saleh doesn’t seem too concerned about the Wilson situation. Per notes from the Jets, he referred to the Wilson contract talks purely as “business” and that the quarterback is “intelligent” enough to make up for any lost time.

“(General manager Joe Douglas) has a great handle on everything and when it gets done, it gets done,” Saleh said. “He’s got a tremendous drive so when he does get here, I know somehow someway he’ll make up for it.”

The Wilson situation, however, does give the Jets an opportunity to reflect on a rare offseason failure: with Wilson stationed on the other side of the country, the fact that the Jets’ other two rostered quarterbacks (James Morgan and Mike White) have zero NFL regular season passes between them looms larger than ever.

Saleh has never been one to panic over the backup quarterback controversy and continued to keep his cool on Tuesday. He even hinted that quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese, who broke Boomer Esiason’s passing records at East Islip High School on Long Island, has a “live arm” and could be called upon in practice in lieu of a veteran backup.

“I do believe that (Morgan and White) got better as camp went on, the two backups, and so we’ll see where they’re at come tomorrow and today for that matter, and we’ll progress through and make a decision as we see fit,” Saleh said when asked if the Jets would seek veteran help. “I got a lot of faith in Joe. So, we’ll see what happens here in the next couple of hours.”

Saleh’s introductory camp comments were made in the midst of the football landscape’s reshaping: nearly a thousand miles away in Wisconsin, Aaron Rodgers channeled his inner Dwight Schrute in a shirt depicting another character from The Office, Brian Baumgartner’s Kevin Malone. Rodgers temporarily lifted his shun of the Green Bay Packers and signed on for what appears one last ride in yellow and green. It sent a slight ripple throughout the football world, as the team released backup throwers Blake Bortles and Jake Dolegala.

The release of the former can help the Jets right one of the few wrongs they’ve endured this offseason.

Saleh has made it clear throughout the offseason that he’s not going to add a veteran quarterback for the sake of adding one, reasoning that teaching the Jets’ new offensive to an experienced newcomer would be no different from counseling a rookie (which makes their passing on former San Francisco understudy Nick Mullens all the more puzzling).

But the ongoing Wilson situation shows just how fragile the Jets’ current setup at quarterback is. They’re currently trapped with a questionable fourth-round pick and a 2018 day three pick that has been on and off the New York practice squad. Bortles can help a developing team like the Jets in several ways.

Even taking away the relatively cliched idea of a mentorship role…one that he briefly filled for Jared Goff with the LA Rams…Bortles can prove beneficial to New York’s future. Though it’s safe to say that Bortles hasn’t lived up to his third overall pick billing with Jacksonville (the first quarterback chosen in the 2014 proceedings), the 29-year-old has been serviceable enough to build a lengthy NFL career. Since 2014, Bortles has thrown 103 touchdown passes, one of 24 NFL passers to do so in that span despite minimal playing time over the last two seasons. In comparison, the Jets as a team have thrown only 137 in the last seven seasons, dead last in the league. If Wilson is befallen by an emergency…contract, injury, or otherwise…there are far worse options to install.

When Bortles’ five-year term in Jacksonville ended, then-head coach Doug Marrone didn’t buy into the idea that the Central Florida alum was a bust, despite the divorce. Instead, Marrone saw a leader who defined toughness in more ways than one.

“We as coaches always use that term and people think it’s physicality of how you play the game,” Marrone said in a Bortles retrospective penned by Gene Frenette of Jacksonville.com. “Everyone can see the physical toughness, the shots he’s taken, really putting himself out there. We see and appreciate that.”

“The stuff you can’t see is the mental toughness,” Marrone continued. “What I remember from Blake is how he handled himself, standing up there and answering all the questions. Quarterbacks can deflect a lot of issues that occur on the field. Blake didn’t do that. He took a tremendous amount of accountability, maybe more than should have been on his plate.”

Bortles’ one shining moment at the NFL level stands to be his 2017 campaign, when he helped guide the Jaguars to an improbable conference title game appearance (and, arguably, a stolen Super Bowl showing). Signing him would keep up with the theme of big game experience the Jets have created this offseason.

Two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman is slated to be their top rusher. Another ring bearer, former Philadelphia Eagles Vinny Curry, should help mentor a young front seven. The team already added one of Bortles’ 2017 teammates, receiver Keelan Cole. Fellow newcomers Corey Davis, Sheldon Rankins, and Tyler Kroft have all likewise competed in a conference title game over the last three seasons. That experience can help a team desperate for any sense of direction or positive reinforcement move forward in their quest to a postseason drought that has reached double digits.

The Jets are coming toward the end of an intriguing offseason that can be remarkably classified as macabre yet hopeful: the 2020 season was garish that almost any adjustment would’ve qualified as an improvement. Yet, there are legitimate upgrades on this roster that will help them in both immediately and in the future. Failing to add a backup quarterback was a rare shortcoming that could’ve been avoided.

Rodgers’ return sent ripples throughout the football world and offered the Jets a rare gift. They must do their best to take advantage.

How important is it for the Jets to add a veteran QB like Bortles to the fold? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and keep the conversation going.

The New York Jets have a(nother) quarterback conundrum

Sam Darnold might be here to stay, but, even if the New York Jets are ready to roll with him, their passing questions still persist.

When one analyzes the offseason of a two-win team that’s welcoming in an almost-entirely new coaching regime, it’s hard to truly lament any losses from the prior group. Sure, departures Henry Anderson and Breshad Perriman provided occasional flashes of brilliance, but one look at the 2020 New York Jets would be enough to convince fans that change was coming and should’ve given them ample time to say their goodbyes.

But one of the most recent losses may sting the new edition in unexpected ways.

The Philadelphia Eagles announced on Tuesday that former Jets thrower Joe Flacco will don a new shade of green through a one-year deal. It is widely expected that the Super Bowl XLVII MVP will backup sophomore Jalen Hurts, or at least compete for the role against Nate Sudfeld and Khalil Tate.

On paper, the Flacco departure shouldn’t affect the Jets drastically. The Audubon, NJ native’s lasting metropolitan legacy was likely to appear on endless lists and attempts at Twitter procrastination when fans pejoratively reference a legend of the game’s time in unfamiliar colors (other Jets examples in this phenomenon would include Chris Johnson, Derrick Mason, and Ronnie Lott). Additionally, if incoming receiver Corey Davis is to be believed, Sam Darnold will be the Jets’ starting quarterback come September, eliminating any semblance of a New York quarterback controversy…for now.

Flacco’s departure, however, may be the Jets’ most impactful loss yet.

The importance of a backup quarterback can no longer be denied in the modern NFL. Injuries remain a part of the game and teams have become especially cautious when it comes to high-profile quarterbacks. In each of the last two seasons, for example, only 13 throwers started all 16 of their team’s games. We’ve witnessed backup throwers start…and win…playoff games. The most recent Wild Card Saturday saw John Wolford and Taylor Heinicke line up under center and the football world is only three years removed from watching Nick Foles shock the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Tennessee built a contending squad after a strong safety net, Ryan Tannehill, became their primary option.

Trivial as it seems, this area must be addressed. In New York, the Jets have not had a quarterback start every game in a season since Ryan Fitzpatrick went the whole way in 2015. Darnold has yet to start to a full season and the Jets are 0-10 in his absence, with those games being overseen by Flacco, Josh McCown, Trevor Siemian, and Luke Falk.

While Davis appears confident that Darnold is the Jets’ man for the future, his comments don’t clarify over whether he’ll be the official starting quarterback. National mock drafts continue to place a non-Trevor Lawrence thrower next to the Jets’ slot at No. 2. But it’s hard to imagine the Jets, already cursed with social media notoriety, creating controversy and conflict where there doesn’t have to be. They have enough issues, which include working with a new coaching staff. When there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel of perpetual rebuilding, it needs to be approaching as cleanly as possible.

Thus, if Davis’ words are to be taken literally, it appears Darnold is the top man. But the backup situation must be addressed and undoubtedly moved up a few pegs on the team’s active offseason priority list (which already needs blocking, secondary, and kicking questions answered).

The current situation

If the Jets stick with Darnold and he’s lost to another medical absence, uncertainty looms in the bottom half of the depth chart. The primary understudy role would probably be a toss-up between James Morgan and Mike White…who have a combined zero NFL regular season passes between them.

The case of Morgan, a mid-major standout from Florida International, is particularly perplexing. His fourth-round drafting made little sense for a team that wound up filling the backup quarterback hole with Flacco shortly after draft weekend. Even as the Jets’ stakes quickly dwindled, to the point they had literally nothing to lose except the top draft pick, Morgan couldn’t even earn a mere activation. New York instead opted to use White, a fifth-round pick in Dallas in 2018, as Flacco’s backup while Darnold recovered. The situation becomes even more bizarre when one looks at the names passed (pun itentended) to add Morgan instead; among them were instant day three contributors like Gabriel Davis and DeeJay Dallas.

It’s hard to fully blame for the predicament. He hasn’t even had the luxury of throwing a down in Jets game jersey thanks to the cancellation of the 2020 preseason. Morgan could well prove himself worth of NFL time sooner or later, but the Jets must, at the very least, create a competition for the spot, especially if they’re keeping Darnold.

What the Jets need in a backup

  • Mentorship: What Darnold needs at this point in time of his NFL career is stability and guidance. The closest he’s looked to having his NFL act together came at the end of his rookie season, when he put up a 99.1 passer rating (64 percent completion rate, 6 touchdowns, 1 interception). Darnold credited the surge in production to “watching Josh (McCown)” while he was injured. Having a de facto coach who also wears a jersey could be big for Darnold as he enters the all-important fourth year on an NFL roster.

 

  • Experience: Abstaining from drafting another quarterback if Darnold is kept would limit potentially negative attention. But if the Jets want someone to keep them afloat if Darnold is lost once again, they would be much better trusting someone used to the weight of NFL starterhood rather than entrusting an emergency situation to a day three choice. Several ex-starters who would probably be better suited for backup duties remain on the free agent market, including Blaine Gabbert from the Super Bowl champions in Tampa Bay and San Francisco passer Nick Mullens, who has worked with incoming coaches Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur.

 

  • That Championship Feeling: The Jets would be wise to seek someone whose has experienced the passing highs the NFL has had to offer. For example, Blake Bortles, most recently a member of the Los Angeles Rams, was starting in an AFC title game three seasons ago. Enough can’t be written about Alex Smith’s inspiring NFL journey. These throwers, amongst others, can provide the Jets some assurance and security in case the unthinkable happens to Darnold yet again, while providing him some off-the-field skills to learn as well.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags