Blake Bortles, the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback of the future, was signed to a four-year deal worth an estimated $20.6 million according to NFL.com. However, the Jaguars are expected to begin the 2014 season with seven-year veteran Chad Henne as their starting quarterback. While it is inevitable that Bortles will one day become the starter, the age old debate rages on. Should rookie quarterbacks be thrown into the fire early on, or should they be brought along slowly and first learn the pro game from the sidelines before taking a snap? Each player develops at his own pace and each franchise has its own unique set of circumstances, so there is no uniformed answer for every quarterback and every situation. That being said, let’s examine some key determining factors to see if Jacksonville is making the right long-term decision for its franchise signal caller.
Under the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement which was put in place in 2011, the rookie pay scale has decreased considerably for first-round draft picks, especially quarterbacks. As a result, there is not as much immediate pressure for teams to play their first-round quarterbacks as rookies. For example, Bortles’ four-year, $20.6 million contract is a modest sum compared to the six-year, $78 million deal that was signed by Sam Bradford with the Rams in 2010. Being that the Jaguars are less financially committed to Bortles, they can afford to be much more patient with the development of their young quarterback.
The overall talent surrounding a rookie signal caller also plays into whether or not he will have the best possible chance to succeed early on. In the case of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the talent of the offensive skill positions leaves plenty to be desired. The departure of Pro-Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew to Oakland combined with the uncertain future of wide receiver Justin Blackmon will certainly make things harder for whichever Jaguars quarterback lines up under center. Rookies Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson will be counted on heavily to provide much needed targets for Jacksonville’s aerial attack. Going into the 2014 season, Jacksonville’s best reliable offensive weapon appears to be nine-year veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis.
Having a strong offensive line also plays a key factor in a rookie quarterback’s success. Unfortunately for Jacksonville, they are lacking in this area as well, having traded away starting left tackle Eugene Monroe last year. His replacement, 2013 first-round pick Luke Joeckel is coming off of a season-ending ankle injury that limited him to five games last year. In addition, 14-year veteran center Brad Meester has recently announced his retirement. Looking from a big picture standpoint, the Indianapolis Colts look to be in complete control of the AFC South division, so there appears no need to force-feed Bortles into the lion’s den early in his career with a below-average supporting cast. I suspect that Bortles will start to see significant playing time once Jacksonville’s playoff chances begin to fade, or if Henne goes down with an injury at some point in the season.
Clearly, there is more than one way to groom a quarterback. Teams like Indianapolis have struck gold twice with Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck by giving them the keys to the offense from Day 1. Other quarterbacks such as Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers went on to have excellent careers after extensive clip-board duty during their first few years in the NFL. Whether or not Bortles reaches the level of success of the aforementioned quarterbacks remains to be seen. However, the Jacksonville Jaguars must be commended for resisting the temptation to start Bortles from Day 1. Placing high expectations on a young quarterback with a weak supporting cast could spell doom for his career before it even gets started, just ask Blaine Gabbert.