JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Chad Henne will start Jacksonville’s preseason game against Carolina, a change that could signal the end of Blake Bortles’ career with the Jaguars.
Coach Doug Marrone made the announcement Wednesday, a day before the exhibition and nearly a week after he created a quarterback competition in Jacksonville for the first time since 2013. Marrone said both quarterbacks will get time with the first-team offense.
Henne, a 10-year veteran whose last start came in 2014, outperformed Bortles during training camp and through two preseason games. If Henne plays well against the Panthers, he likely will start the Sept. 10 season opener at Houston.
It’s unclear what that would mean for Bortles, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Jaguars exercised a fifth-year option in Bortles’ deal in May that would pay him $19 million in 2018. His salary is guaranteed only for injury, meaning the Jaguars could end up on the hook for a huge payout.
So keeping Bortles is a financial risk, if he gets on the field.
The third overall pick in the 2014 draft has started 45 consecutive regular-season games, every one since replacing Henne in the third game of his rookie season.
Bortles has completed 59 percent of his passes for 11,241 yards, with 69 touchdowns and 51 interceptions. He also has been sacked 140 times and lost 12 fumbles. Maybe his most damning statistic: He has 11 victories and 11 interceptions returned for touchdowns in three seasons.
Marrone and top executive Tom Coughlin seemed committed to Bortles in the offseason. They opted not to draft a quarterback or sign one in free agency, and they picked up Bortles’ 2018 option as a show of confidence.
They also, however, made it clear they wanted to improve the running game in an effort to have Bortles throw fewer passes. Bortles averaged more than 39 a game in 2016, way too many for an inconsistent passer who struggles with mechanics, accuracy and decisions.
Jacksonville drafted LSU star Leonard Fournette with the fourth overall pick, added left tackle Cam Robinson early in the second round and spent the better part of the offseason trying to develop a tougher, more physical team.
But when training camp opened, one thing looked eerily familiar: turnover-prone Bortles was at it again.
Bortles threw five interceptions in the team’s first padded practice. He completed 5 of 17 passes in 11-on-11 drills during joint practices with New England.
A few days after the preseason opener against the Patriots, Bortles threw two interceptions so ugly that Marrone pulled him and said he must have a tired arm. And then Bortles woefully underthrew two passes to Allen Robinson in last week’s exhibition game against Tampa Bay.
Marrone and Coughlin had seen enough, announcing after the game that the job was officially up for grabs.
Now, it’s Henne’s turn. A second-round pick by Miami in 2008, Henne has started 53 games in nine seasons. He’s completed 59 percent of his passes for 12,931 yards, with 58 touchdowns and 63 interceptions.
Henne has a history of settling for underneath throws and not taking downfield chances. But the Jaguars believe the 32-year-old veteran can thrive if they run the ball effectively and allow him to take advantage of play-action passes to Robinson, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns.
Regardless of the results, the Jaguars surely will be in the market for a quarterback in 2018. New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo and Minnesota’s Sam Bradford are among the expected free agents. USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and UCLA’s Josh Rosen headline what should be a deep draft class.