In 2017, Blake Bortles was busy passing for touchdowns, scrambling for first downs and leading the Jacksonville Jaguars to the AFC championship game.
But the quarterback was aware of what was happening in the NFC.
Philadelphia backup Nick Foles replaced injured starter Carson Wentz late in the season and led the Eagles on a Super Bowl run that concluded with Foles winning Super Bowl MVP.
Two years later, Bortles is the backup quarterback for a Rams team regarded as a contender to return to the Super Bowl.
“Obviously, you don’t ever hope anybody gets hurt or something happens, but unfortunately stuff does happen and so when it does you’ve got to be ready to go and take advantage of it like Philly and Nick did,” Bortles said. “And then you see where he’s at now, and the spot he ended up getting himself in.”
The Jaguars released Bortles in March so they could sign Foles to an $88-million contract, with $50 million in guarantees.
Bortles, still reportedly owed $6.5 million from the Jaguars, signed a one-year, $1-million contract with the Rams. His goals: Learn at coach Sean McVay’s elbow, provide a seasoned backup for Jared Goff and prepare for a starting opportunity with another NFL team in 2020.
It was a good deal for the Rams.
Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, has never been sidelined because of injury or poor play. He has missed only a handful of snaps in 38 career starts. But if injury or other circumstances befall Goff, the Rams now have a seasoned insurance policy in Bortles, the No.3 pick in the 2014 draft, who has started 73 regular-season games and three playoff games.
“God forbid if something were to happen, that’s why you go get Blake Bortles,” McVay said. “Because you do have confidence that if he had to, he could step in and lead the team and guys have confidence and belief in him.”
Bortles, 27, compiled a 24-49 record in five seasons with the Jaguars. He has passed for 103 touchdowns, with 75 interceptions.
Two years ago, he passed for 21 touchdowns, led the Jaguars to a 10-6 record and won two playoff games before losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC title game at Gillette Stadium.
The Jaguars rewarded Bortles with an extension that included $26.5 million in guarantees.
But 2018 did not go as planned for the Jaguars or for Bortles. In 13 games, he passed for 13 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions. He lost the starting job after a seven-game losing streak.
Now he is getting a fresh start, and a fresh perspective, with the Rams. During offseason workouts and training camp, he absorbed all that McVay and the coaching staff had to offer.
“What they do here is on a whole ’nother level,” Bortles said. “I mean, there’s little intricacies and things that have been talked about that I never even thought to think of.
“So the way that things are taught, the way that things are coached, it’s all impressive and it’s a constant place to learn every single day.”
Bortles’ addition to the roster also has benefited the Rams’ starting defense, which often faces him during practice.
“He’s experienced, he’s been to the playoffs, he’s won games and done it all,” safety John Johnson said.
With McVay holding starters out of preseason games, Bortles got a chance to start and run the offense for a few series during preseason games against the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys. He looked comfortable, overcame mistakes by less experienced players, extended a few plays with his running ability and generally showed he could operate McVay’s system.
“If something happens and your number gets called, especially as a quarterback, they want you to go out there and make sure the offense doesn’t miss a beat,” Bortles said.
He is not looking too far ahead. Whether he plays extensively or not this season, he will probably be a sought-after commodity in 2020.
For now, he is focusing on improving and helping Goff, who shares the same agent and has been a friend for four years.
“He has a wealth of knowledge I can dive into at times and ask him what his experiences with certain plays are, and what his experiences with different situations are,” Goff said.
The two quarterbacks share information and experiences on the field and off.
“We’ve gone and played golf, been on trips and done different things before,” Bortles said. “So now that we’re in the same room together every single day, it’s like, ‘We can just do this whenever we want.’
“So it’s been awesome.”