Two seasons ago, quarterback Blake Bortles played in the AFC Championship Game, falling one victory shy of leading the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Super Bowl.
For his effort, and his projected future, Bortles received a contract extension that included $26.5 million in guarantees.
Fewer than 18 months later, Bortles is no longer an NFL starter. He’s the backup for Rams quarterback Jared Goff.
And, apparently, Bortles is enjoying the experience.
“It’s been awesome,” he said last week.
Bortles, 27, and the Rams consider his time in Los Angeles a temporary assignment.
After the Jaguars signed quarterback Nick Foles in March, Bortles was released and in need of a landing spot. The Jaguars reportedly still owed him $6.5 million for 2019, so Bortles signed a one-year, $1-million contract with the Rams to learn at the elbow of coach Sean McVay.
Barring injury or a major step backward in performance by Goff, Bortles will spend the 2019 season as a reserve. He fully expects an opportunity to compete for a starting job with another team in 2020.
In the meantime, he is soaking up the Rams’ offense and culture during organized team activities.
McVay, Bortles said, has exceeded expectations.
“Seeing how he coaches, how all the other coaches coach and how the guys are receptive and take it, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Bortles said.
McVay likes what he has seen of the 6-foot-5, 236-pound Bortles, the third pick in the 2014 draft.
In five seasons with the Jaguars, Bortles was 24-49 as a starter during the regular season. He passed for 103 touchdowns, with 75 interceptions.
His best statistical season came in 2015, when he passed for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns for a team that finished 5-11.
Two years ago, Bortles passed for 21 touchdowns, with 13 interceptions, and led the Jaguars to a 10-6 record and playoff victories over the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers. He completed 23 of 36 passes for 293 yards and touchdown in a 24-20 conference championship game defeat by the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
But after receiving the contract extension, Bortles struggled for much of last season. He was benched after a late-November loss to the Bills, a defeat that extended a losing streak to seven games.
Now he has a fresh start with the Rams.
Bortles’ experience is evident in his command of the huddle and in his confidence, McVay said. He has proven that he can make elite plays.
“You’ve seen a lot of really good things that he’s put on tape over the course of his career in Jacksonville,” McVay said. “And, if need be, we’re confident he’ll perform well for us as well.”
Goff, preparing for his fourth NFL season, and Bortles share the same representation firm, so they have known each other and have been friends for a few years.
That eased the acceptance of a new personality into the quarterbacks meeting room.
“I’m excited to have him in the room with me,” Goff said at the start of offseason workouts.
The existing relationship enables Bortles and Goff to share ideas and provide honest feedback in a position group that also includes Brandon Allen and John Wolford.
“There’s no ‘Should I say this? Should I not say this?’ ” Bortles said. “We’re both pretty free talking with each other.”
The Rams are coming off consecutive NFC West titles and a trip to the Super Bowl. They are regarded among the NFC favorites to make another Super Bowl run.
With McVay is expected to again hold out starters during preseason games and Bortles will probably have the opportunity to show what he can do in the Rams system before the opener against the Carolina Panthers. But Bortles has accepted that there is no chance to challenge for a starting role with the Rams. And he is at peace with it.
“It’s a weird thing to kind of balance in your head,” he said. “I have a role. I’m here to back Jared and do whatever I can to help him out. And if I get an opportunity, I’ve got to make sure we don’t miss a beat offensively and we continue to roll.
“And at the same time, I also expect to be a starter in this league again, and I know it’s not going to be here in L.A.
“So I’m trying to just better myself. … And if I get an opportunity to play, great. If not, then I spent a year learning from McVay, and being around a really good organization.”
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