Blake Bortles had a chance to be a winner in 2016 and save his job and head coach Gus Bradley’s job but the quarterback has ultimately come up short.
Midway through the 2016 season it was mused that quarterback Blake Bortles could be a “coach killer.” If so, he’s just claimed his first victim.
The initial proposal of former linebacker Bart Scott wasn’t absurd. Bortles is having a poor season, especially in light of the impressive sophomore campaign from a year before. He ‘has seen decreases in every major statistical category except interceptions, which could outpace 2015’s league-leading 18. That kind of play can put a lot of heat on the head coach.
It puts even more heat on the head coach when the quarterback and coach are joined together as Gus Bradley and Bortles were. General manager Dave Caldwell, in consultation with Bradley, made Bortles the third overall selection in 2014. He was handpicked to be the guy for the Jaguars going forward in their long rebuild.
With a promising 5-11 season in 2015, it looked like Bortles could be the guy. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Bortles struggled and Bradley stuck with him, hoping he could regain his form. This is what cost Bradley his job according to ESPN’s Michael DiRocco:
"It made sense to a degree, because one of the most important things Bortles wanted from his coach was unwavering loyalty. It was an important part of their relationship. That’s something other coaches and quarterbacks have, and sometimes it’s the only thing that can sustain the relationship."
That relationship never wavered. Even with significant mistakes costing the Jaguars games, it never seemed to appear that Bortles was in danger of being benched by Bradley. Bradley fired offensive coordinator Jeff Fisch to make Bortles better then fired his replacement, Greg Olson, a year and a half later. Bradley was committed to turning Bortles’ raw talent into the a serviceable career with the Jags.
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Bradley calls himself a “Blake Bortles fan” and hopes that the team will experience good things with him as the leader. Despite the rough patch through 2016, it’s clear that Bradley still thinks that Bortles can have career high moments going forward. Like many quarterbacks, Bortles will have to have a short memory and move on from 2016 soon in order to get better in coming seasons.
This pairing – one giving unwavering commitment and the other struggling to find his feet – left an unfavorable taste in many fans’ mouths. It was clear that the Jacksonville Jaguars weren’t winning with Bortles and could use a change at the game’s most important position. Still, Bradley stuck with Bortles.
While it’s easy to fault a coach for not doing everything in his power to win, this unwillingness to sit Bortles was a great example of the loyalty and character of Bradley. He went all in on Bortles, he gambled on this young quarterback with size to help make his career. It didn’t happen and it cost him his job.
Now it’s up to another coach to see if Bortles has salvageable skills that can translate to wins at the NFL level. Bradley was a willing victim but he may not be the last. It’s unlikely such a strong commitment and pairing will develop between Bortles and his coach again unless he completely rehabs his game.