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Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: NFL Execs Not Buying a Blake Bortles Bounceback

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMay 17, 2017

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 27:  Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars reacts after throwing an interception against the New Orleans Saints during a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 27, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

1. Was Blake Bortles a "media creation"?

The year was 2015. It was the year of Blake Bortles. 

Other quarterbacks were having better seasons, but Bortles was doing something that seemed almost impossible. So many teams struggle to find a true "franchise quarterback," particularly the dregs of the league like the Jaguars, but Bortles looked like just that. It seemed as if the Jaguars had found the passing star teams like Cleveland and Chicago hadn't seen for years.

Bortles exploded that season. He set team records for touchdowns (35) and passing yards (4,428). Many people—be they fans, team executives or people in the media like me—saw him as a QB of the future.

"He is part of a Jaguars offense that in just a few years could be one of the very best in football," I wrote at the time. "Yes, Bortles is getting that good."

Then came last season and one of the worst regressions we've ever seen a quarterback have. There were times you watched Bortles and could have mistaken him for JaMarcus Russell. All of the pocket awareness and skill he demonstrated just one season earlier had vanished.

I was on the Bortles train. To some degree, I still am. But I have to say that as Bortles was having that excellent 2015, several team executives from both conferences cautioned that it was a media creation.

Those words were used. "Media creation."

They said this to me privately as Bortles rose, as the media and others crowned his ass. They said he would eventually fail because, while many in the media became enamored with his numbers, they were failing to notice Bortles' poor mechanics.

They said Bortles was able to get away with poor throws and decisions in 2015, but as teams studied him more and broke him down extensively on film, they would be able to dismantle him, as they did in 2016.

Those people believe the same thing will happen in 2017.

Blake Bortles Stats
YearW-LYdsTDInt
20143-102,9081117
20155-114,4283518
20163-133,9052316
Pro Football Reference

This is the cruelty of the NFL. As quarterbacks get better and get more exposure, they are studied more intently and defenses find more weaknesses. This, personnel men say, is mostly (not all) what happened to Bortles. He was overwhelmed by smart defensive coaches and players who spent an offseason studying his every move.

Now Bortles must counter the countering. In the NFL, it's 3-D chess

Thus it's not an exaggeration to say that this coming season might be more important for Bortles than for any other player in the NFL. Was 2015 a fluke, or was last year the fluke? Can he be a franchise player or not?

Bortles is an example of why teams get so desperate—and hopeful—at the quarterback position. It's why teams hang on to terrible quarterbacks like Jay Cutler for too long or make insane moves like the Bears did to move up in the draft and get Mitch Trubisky.

The position remains so hard to fill that the Jaguars have to stick with Bortles despite an absolutely putrid last year, in which he regressed so far his blood type is pleistocene.

Bortles and the team have said he's been working on his mechanics this offseason. Jaguars coach Doug Marrone indicated Bortles has improved dramatically from last year.

"There are certain things, as far as his elbow and his arm, that are much improved," Marrone told the team's website. "I think there are still other things we're still working on as well as everyone else at this stage. … If we're throwing 100 footballs to 150—if we throw 150, he'll be better. If we throw 200, he'll be better—250, he'll be better. What we're doing now is trying to build him up and build the arm strength and all the other things, along with all of our quarterbacks to get there. The more he throws, the better he'll be."

Yet, I have to say, the same team executives who cautioned me about Bortles in 2015 as he was lighting the league up—trusted talent evaluators who stressed Bortles would eventually fall apart—are telling me now the same thing they always have. We created him in the media, and he will always be more about wishful thinking than actual skill.

I'm not sure I agree with this, mainly because the Jaguars are putting more weapons around him, like rookie runner Leonard Fournette. And I think Bortles understands that he must evolve.

I think Bortles bounces back. Then again, I'm in the media, and maybe good Bortles was just a figment of my imagination in the first place.

      

2. Could Colin Kaepernick sign with Seattle?

SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 1: Kelcie McCray #33 of the Seattle Seahawks and Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers talk on the field following the game at Levi Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. The Seahawks defeated the 49ers 2
Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

Colin Kaepernick signing with Seattle has always made sense, and this week Pete Carroll acknowledged on ESPN Radio the Seahawks are considering it. Carroll said the team is also looking at Robert Griffin III (yuck).

The Seahawks would be the best fit for Kaepernick for any number of reasons. One, he is still talented. Two, that locker room loves Kaepernick. He is friends with players there. Seahawks players have publicly and privately expressed admiration for Kaepernick.

Three, that organization, as well as any, can handle any extra media attention that will come with Kaepernick's signing (though that factor is remarkably overstated).

Not to mention, Kaepernick is smart, knows the position and is a good locker room guy. It makes perfect sense for the Seahawks to sign him.

     

3. The 19-0 Patriots

Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA;  New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick celebrate after Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We've all heard offseason "Patriots 19-0" chatter before, but not to the decibel you hear now when you talk to team executives and assistant coaches around the league.

They think this is the year the Patriots win all their games, including the Super Bowl. This isn't completely crazy since the Patriots came within a crazy helmet catch of doing it before.

They believe the Patriots are set up for perfection better than maybe any team in history—including the only team to do it, the 1972 Dolphins, and the Patriots team that lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl after the David Tyree catch.

They point to Tom Brady, of course, who is at the top of his game. They also note that coach Bill Belichick has built maybe the fastest, deepest version of the Patriots yet. They also point to how the rest of the division has yet to make significant gains on the Patriots in terms of finding a quarterback who is even in the same solar system as Brady. 

      

4. Will Josh Gordon ever play in the NFL again?

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 21: Josh Gordon #12 of the Cleveland Browns watches the action against the Carolina Panthers on December 21, 2014 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Josh Gordon's petition to re-enter the league was recently denied, as first reported by USA Today. Gordon has failed multiple drug tests.

Gordon will be allowed to reapply for reinstatement in the fall. Will he get in then? I can't say for certain, but my experience is the league will take its sweet time with Gordon. I don't think he'll get reinstated in the fall, either. I have no reporting on this; this is from just knowing the league the way I do.

They don't yet trust Gordon, and I'm not certain just a few more months will change anything. I could easily be wrong. But my guess is Gordon will likely be out this coming season as well.

    

5. An amazing statistic...

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 17: Tackle Brandon Shell #72 the New York Jets blocks against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium on December 17, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)
Al Pereira/Getty Images

I like sharing nerd tidbits, and this one from Pro Football Focus smacked me right in the face. Jets offensive lineman Brandon Shell hasn't surrendered a sack since Nov. 14, 2014.

Pro Football Focus @PFF

It's been a long time since Jets OT Brandon Shell has allowed a sack... https://t.co/ywjwiRDiFc

Yes, most of this goes back to his college days, but three of the games have been professional starts against Buffalo, New England and Miami.

That's pretty incredible.

     

6. ...and an amazing life

17 Sep 1989:  Running back Alonzo Highsmith of the Houston Oilers moves the ball during a game against the San Diego Chargers at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, California.  The Oilers won the game, 34-27. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Dunn  /Allsport
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

I also like sharing the occasional story, and this one from Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on NFLer-turned-boxer Alonzo Highsmith is worth a read. Some longtime scouts still think Highsmith was the best blocking fullback they ever saw. It's just that injuries limited his longevity and effectiveness in the NFL. He was able to have a longer career in boxing.

    

7. Like Tom Brady's humility, but he's wrong

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Tom Brady was asked by ESPN's Ian O'Connor if he agrees with the widespread belief that he has surpassed Joe Montana as the best quarterback ever. His response was typical Brady.

"I don't agree with that, and I'll tell you why," Brady said. "I know myself as a player. I'm really a product of what I've been around, who I was coached by, what I played against, in the era I played in. I really believe if a lot of people were in my shoes they could accomplish the same kinds of things. So I've been very fortunate."

"I really believe if a lot of people were in my shoes they could accomplish the same kinds of things." — Tom Brady

With all due respect, um, no.

You can argue over who the GOAT quarterback is (it's Brady). But what you can't debate is if "a lot of people" could win as much as Brady has.

Brady is the best because of his uncanny throwing accuracy, his leadership skills and his work ethic. Some players have one of those qualities, maybe two, but not all three in abundance. That is what makes Brady unique. He has those qualities in greater quantity than any other quarterback in history.

I've said this before: Brady is the best of all time, and he will only be surpassed one day by Aaron Rodgers.

    

8. This is not great

Lost in the videotaped assault of a woman by Joe Mixon—and how NFL teams somehow still don't seem to care about domestic violence—is the case of third-round pick Jourdan Lewis.

Lewis was selected by the Cowboys despite what we now know are multiple accusations of domestic violence by his girlfriend. The Dallas Morning News lays out the details here, and it's some scary stuff.

None of this means the accusations are true, but they are highly disturbing and, yet again, we're seeing an NFL team pick a player with multiple accusations of domestic violence. That's not good.

   

9. Fat shaming?

Sep 18, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Packers 17-14. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Eddie Lacy made his Seahawks-mandated weight of below 255 pounds, weighing in at 253, according to Lacy's agent. He earned a $55,000 bonus for making weight.

SportsTrust Advisors @_SportsTrust

First weigh-in in Seattle done: 253 ✔️ @Lil_Eazy_Ana_42 https://t.co/qMGi1CUJKj

Several veteran players said they were privately rooting for Lacy and that it was embarrassing for the media to focus so much on Lacy's weight. I got an earful for even asking about it. One player called what was happening to Lacy "fat shaming."

The player also raised this interesting point: In a league where giant men beat the hell out of other giant men, what exactly is too heavy? Even for a running back?

     

10. A big deal

It's been 30 years since a woman last called play-by-play for an NFL regular-season contest. Three decades. The last one to do it was Gayle Sierens in 1987.

1987.

Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated was the first to report that strange, sexist legacy of NFL play-by-play calls is about to end. Beth Mowins will call the Chargers-Broncos Monday night game on Sept. 11. She'll be joined by Rex Ryan (who will guarantee the Chargers and Broncos will both win).

This is a huge deal. It's disgraceful it's been so long, especially considering such a large swath of NFL viewership (and the journalists that cover the sport) consists of women.

     

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.

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