JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Shad Khan has just nine victories in his three seasons as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ owner, yet he's confident that the franchise is headed in the right direction.
That's mainly because he believes general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley made the correct decision to draft quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall pick in 2014.
"We owe you better results on game day. I know that," Khan said. "Dave knows that. Gus knows that. I do believe that we’re on the verge of turning the corner with a number of our young players, especially Blake Bortles as quarterback. This is really the first season coming up for me where we enter a new season with stability at quarterback.
"No pressure, Blake, but we’re counting on you."
Caldwell and Bradley wanted Bortles to sit out his rookie season to work on fundamentals and learn from veteran Chad Henne, but that plan quickly was ditched. After a surprising first half in the season opener against Philadelphia, the Jaguars’ offense was nonfunctional during the next six quarters (15 nonscoring or half-ending drives of three or fewer plays) and Bortles was inserted into the lineup at halftime of a Week 3 loss to Indianapolis.
Bortles looked good early, struggled for a stretch when he led the league in interceptions, and then significantly reduced his mistakes, throwing two interceptions in the final five games. He finished with 2,908 passing yards and 11 touchdowns with 17 interceptions and was the Jaguars’ second-leading rusher (419 yards).
That came while being sacked a league-high 55 times (the Jaguars gave up a league-high 71 sacks overall) and having to rely on three rookie receivers and a running back who was a converted college quarterback in his first full season in Denard Robinson. Plus, the Jaguars’ best tight end (Marcedes Lewis) missed eight games with a high ankle sprain.
Bortles needs to be better in 2015 if the Jaguars are to indeed produce better results, but it’s not all on the former Central Florida standout. The Jaguars have the most salary-cap room of any team (approximately $65 million) and are planning to use free agency to upgrade the offensive line, add a pass-catching tight end and find a productive veteran receiver.
In addition, new offensive coordinator Greg Olson helped Raiders quarterback Derek Carr have the best season of all the rookie quarterbacks in 2014: 3,270 yards, 21 TDs, 12 interceptions, 24 sacks.
Though Bortles didn't exactly have an Andrew Luck-type rookie season, he still gives the Jaguars stability at the position that the franchise hasn't had since signing David Garrard to a seven-year, $60 million contract in April 2008. That came after a season in which he threw for 2,509 yards, 18 touchdowns and three interceptions and had the NFL's third-highest passer rating. He also led the Jaguars to a playoff victory in Pittsburgh in which he scrambled for 32 yards on fourth-and-2 to set up a game-winning field goal.
Garrard never lived up to his contract and was cut just before the 2011 season began, but he at least gave the Jaguars stability at the position from 2008-10 . The Jaguars drafted Blaine Gabbert in 2011 and cut Garrard just before the season began. Gabbert struggled as a rookie and the team signed Henne before the 2012 season.
Gabbert went 5-22 as a starter and threw 22 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions in 28 career games before losing the starting job to Henne early in the 2013 season.
Though Khan did dump some extra pressure on Bortles’ shoulders with his light-hearted comment, Khan put the onus on himself to make sure the franchise starts to move beyond the past three seasons’ cumulative 9-39 record.
"I want to really make it clear it’s my responsibility and yours that we deliver a team and an organization to you that you can be proud of on game days and every other day of the year," he said.