Playoff game with Steelers will have impact on Blake Bortles' future


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Got questions about the Jacksonville Jaguars? I’ll answer several each Saturday morning. Submit your questions via Twitter to @ESPNdirocco. Please use the hashtag #jagsmail.

There were a lot of good questions this week, but unfortunately, I can’t answer them all.

I think the way Blake Bortles plays on Sunday at the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs will go a long way toward deciding whether he’s back in 2018, but it won’t be the only thing that determines that.

Tom Coughlin, Dave Caldwell and Doug Marrone will evaluate Bortles’ entire body of work, not just from this season but from his first three seasons. This has been Bortles’ best year. He completed 60 percent of his passes for the first time, threw 21 touchdown passes (more than Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, by the way) and cut his interceptions to 13. He did it without Allen Robinson and while being forced to rely on rookies for a significant stretch because of injuries to Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee.

But Bortles also had some rough spots, including last week’s passing performance against the Buffalo Bills in the wild-card game. He ended up with more yards rushing (88) than passing (87), which generally isn’t a good stat line for an NFL quarterback not playing in 3 feet of snow.

If he lights it up against Pittsburgh, the Jaguars probably will win the game. But Bortles hasn’t shown he can consistently play at a high level, and that is his biggest issue; the team has no idea what it would get out of him the following week in the AFC Championship Game. If Bortles plays poorly on Sunday, the Jaguars likely will lose to the Steelers, and that’s certainly a black mark against him, as it will show he didn’t deliver when the team needed him the most.

The Jaguars are built to win big now. They have an elite defense and a workhorse running back in Leonard Fournette. Teams have loaded up to stop Fournette, and the only way to get teams to back off is to throw the ball and throw it well. Bortles hasn’t done that, so the Jaguars have struggled to consistently move the ball.

The Jaguars could approach things two ways with Bortles in the future. They can dump Bortles and replace him with a veteran (Alex Smith, Sam Bradford, Kirk Cousins, for example) either via trade or free agency and then draft a young quarterback to develop for several seasons. Or they can go all-in on Bortles for another year and beef up the offensive line and receivers and find a pass-catching tight end with the belief that with enough weapons, Bortles can be a consistent passer.

What happens on Sunday will be a big part of the team’s decision-making process because quarterbacks earn their stripes in the postseason.

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