ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Blake Bortles has spent the past two months working on his mechanics with his throwing coaches at 3DQB in California, not worrying about whether the Jacksonville Jaguars want him around in 2018.
That doesn’t mean Bortles is ignoring the fact that the 2017 season is make-or-break for him in Jacksonville. He said he’s just not worrying about it.
“It’s huge,” Bortles said Sunday before his second annual Blake Bortles Foundation Celebrity Golf Tournament at The King & Bear at the World Golf Village. “It’s as big as however you want it to be, but regardless we’ve got to be here on April 10th [for offseason conditioning] and we’ve got to show up for camp in August and eventually they’re going to start playing football games, so I think all that’s stuff’s irrelevant.
“I’m confident with what I’ve done this offseason and that I’ll be able to come help this team be as good as we possibly can be. Everything involving the contract, that’s up to them. I look forward to playing football.”
The Jaguars have until May 3 to decide if they will pick up Bortles’ fifth-year option. If they do, his 2018 salary would be the average of the top 10 highest-paid quarterbacks: approximately $20.7 million. It is guaranteed for injury only until the first day of the 2018 league year, when it becomes fully guaranteed.
General manager Dave Caldwell said the team still has work to do in evaluating Bortles before making that kind of commitment.
“Well I think just like with everything we’ve done from the end of the season until now, we get a lot of input from our coaches, we’ve got OTAs, we’ve got minicamps, we’ve got a lot of things between now and then to see where he is at, but I don’t think any decision will be made until closer to May,” Caldwell said.
The problem for the Jaguars is that deadline hits before they can know if Bortles is any better than he was in 2016, when he completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 3,905 yards and 23 touchdowns with 16 interceptions. He threw 15 interceptions — including three returned for touchdowns to give him 11 pick-sixes in his career — in the first 12 games but threw only one in the last four. Bortles also suffered a Grade 1 sprained right AC joint, aggravated that five weeks later, and also dealt with painful tendinitis in his right wrist.
His mechanics were a mess, too. His footwork got sloppy and his delivery was out of whack. He brought the ball below his waist and way behind his body during his windup, which increased the amount of time between his decision to throw and his release. Bortles looked nothing like he did in 2015, when he set single-season franchise records for passing yards (4,428) and passing touchdowns (35).
That’s why he headed to California as soon as the 2016 season ended to work with Adam Dedeaux.
“The first thing we focused on was probably what everybody would guess, just trying to tighten up the release, make that as quick as possible,” Bortles said. “So never letting really the wrist get below the elbow, trying to keep that parallel and not dropping down. So that was probably the main focus and then just a couple tweaks here and there in different things.
“It didn’t take a long time to fix it, but the first week it wasn’t pretty. It didn’t look good and that’s a part of it. When you’re trying to change things it’s not going to be great but we were able to kind of hash that out and now it’s going well.”
3DQB tweeted out a quick video of Bortles throwing a pass, and his delivery looks significantly more compact. He’s holding the ball just below his chin during his dropback, and it doesn’t get any lower than his elbow on his windup.
Bortles said his delivery is “more efficient, quicker,” but will that stick during practices and especially games?
“That’s the true test of, ‘Did it stick?’” Bortles said. “There’s only one way to figure that out and that’s go and play.”
He’s taking a quick break to raise funds for the Arc Village of Jacksonville — an independent-living neighborhood for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities — and first responders of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and Jacksonville Fire & Rescue Department. According to Bonnie Upright, the foundation’s executive director, the golf tournament, charity auction, and concert have raised approximately $100,000 this year.
After that, though, he’s headed to Arizona next week to throw with Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns (he’s been throwing with Marqise Lee in California). This is a different plan from last offseason, when he spent only six days in California and spent most of his time in Jacksonville throwing with Jaguars receivers.
“I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent out there [in California],” Bortles said. “I think it’s really been beneficial. I feel really good as far as where I’m at mechanically and how the ball’s coming out and how it’s spinning.”