JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Blake Bortles might not be the long-term answer in Jacksonville.
He is, however, the short-term starter.
The Jaguars signed Bortles to a three-year, $54 million deal Saturday that will keep him under contract through the 2020 season. The deal includes $26.5 million guaranteed.
“I definitely was looking forward to the opportunity of this happening, and knowing that it was done and now in the rear-view mirror, we can move on and get back to just worrying about football and not having to deal with money and contracts and all that stuff,” Bortles said during a conference call with reporters. “Either way, however this went, I don’t think it would have had a ton of effect on how I feel. Thrilled to be able to stay here and playing Jacksonville and fired up to continue to work with the guys that are here.”
The team announced the move one day after handing out two-year extensions to top executive Tom Coughlin, coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell.
Re-signing 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 partially torn ligament in his right wrist 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.
“Blake’s growth and development last season was a key to the success we had as a team,” Coughlin said in a statement. “Blake has proven, with toughness and dependability, that he can be the leader this team needs going forward. Along with this contract come high expectations that he will continue to improve and help our team accomplish its ultimate goal.”
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 seasons.
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 locking up 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.
“I have said it all along: I think Blake is one of the toughest people I have ever met, and I’m talking about his mental and physical toughness,” Marrone said. “He never lets the outside noise get him away from where his focus is, which is always on being a great teammate and being a great leader for our organization.”
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.
“I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Blake mature and progress for the past four years, and the one thing that I admire the most about him is his attitude,” veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “He is an ultimate competitor and will do whatever he can to help the team win. That’s his only goal.”