Blake Bortles: Made for Minnesota?
The Vikings would be a perfect fit for the quarterback who needs at least one redshirt year in the NFL before getting his shot. But Houston and Cleveland could complicate matters. Checking in with Blake Bortles, plus answering email
I watch Blake Bortles on video, his accuracy and escapability and his occasionally questionable decision-making, and I can’t help but think of him as a Viking. This is the kind of quarterback Minnesota offensive coordinator Norv Turner loves: an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than Troy Aikman; a lover of the pocket in an era of escape artists; a 66-percent lifetime passer in three years at Central Florida. I doubt he makes it to No. 8, but that’s the best fit for me for Bortles in the top 10.
First, you can’t take a quarterback who matches an offensive coordinator in today’s day and age … because you have no idea how long any of them will be working where they are. Who’d have thought Turner would get whacked after just one season with the Cleveland coaching staff ? So whoever likes Bortles, who doesn’t have the pedigree of a Johnny Manziel or even a Derek Carr, is going to have to like the player long-term and know that whoever coaches him in 2014 might not be the coach in 2016.
Other than Minnesota, the most likely teams to want him in the draft are Houston and Cleveland. The Browns have been smitten with him since last fall, and you could say the same thing for rookie Texans coach Bill O’Brien. Bortles’ Central Florida team went to Penn State last season and beat O’Brien’s Nittany Lions, and Bortles complete 20 of 27 throws in an efficient if not memorable performance. Pretty heady stuff for a guy who had to fight for the starting job in high school, and had to fight again at Central Florida.
I remember one scout telling me last fall, “If you can be patient with Bortles, and he decides to come out, he’s going to give you a good return on your investment. He hasn’t played as much football, as much high-level football, as most of the other guys he’d be competing with. But two or three years down the road, he’s going to pay off.”
Again, Minnesota. Let Matt Cassel play a season (unless beaten out by Christian Ponder this fall) and then open up the competition in camp next year. The starters in Cleveland and Houston: shakier. Much shakier.
As with most players with just over a week left before the draft, Bortles told me he had no idea where he’s going. His future is a mystery, as is he.
“It is all very surreal,” he said over the weekend, all of his visits to NFL teams finished. “Most people don’t even know who I am. If you said to anyone, even my friends, before the season that I’d be coming into the draft early, they’d all be shocked.”
His visits, he said, have been fun, because he’s been getting to know NFL decision-makers and coaches, as well as them getting to know him. “They just want to find out if I’m worth it,” Bortles said. “They want to know, ‘Is he going to screw it up?’ They want to know what kind of person I am too.”
And player. “I think the fact that I was able to play through some adversity—didn’t start in high school right away, got beat out and then had to fight to win the starting job at Central Florida—and show some dedication to the job, that should speak for itself. I’ve played in the shotgun, I’ve played under center, I’ve been in the pocket, I’ve moved around. We went 12-1, won a BCS bowl game this year, and that’s a huge accomplishment for Central Florida. My goal always was to play in the NFL, and I went into the draft to be the number one pick. Why not?” he said.
“I understand I have things to fix. Everybody has flaws. I never had a [concentrated] quarterback coach growing up, never did the kind of quarterback training lots of guys do till two months ago. I have to fix things. But everybody has flaws. I do too.
“The best piece of advice I got came in a couple of places. What teams harped on with me is to get in the playbook immediately … the guys who are successful are the ones who can pick you apart and know everything mentally.”
The Vikings would likely want their quarterback to have a redshirt year, as GM Rick Spielman has said. But Houston and Cleveland may want to see the quarterback they pick play earlier. Wherever he goes, this season doesn’t line up great for a quarterback who needs experience and a learning year. The draft is two weeks later than normal, and with the opening weekend exactly four months after the draft, it’d be tough to think of Bortles playing early in his rookie season. That’s just one more reason why it’s short-sighted for the league to have the draft as late as it is right now. For players who need to play early, the late draft is an impediment to getting them ready in time for a top-quality game around Labor Day.
“I’m anxious to get back to playing football,’’ Bortles said. Teams are anxious to get the long-awaited draft (that’s putting it mildly) going, so they can begin full-squad preparation for the season.
And now for your email:
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CALLING THE NFL ON THE CARPET.The one big eye-opener for me in Peter’s NFL schedule column was the fact that the four NFL staffers charged with coming up with the schedule all had the word “broadcasting” in their job titles. The earlier flexing opportunities is a close second. Simply put: It’s all about television. What does the NFL say to season ticket holders and fans who love going to the actual games?
I say, save your money and stay at home and watch on television—that is what the NFL wants you to do. The schedule process is catered to this exact scenario. If that’s not what the NFL wants, then how about some considerations in the Val Pinchbeck room for ticket holders? Could they place a “Director of Fan Services,” for instance, on the scheduling crew to give input? Of course not.
Planning to go to a game with a 1 p.m. kickoff that is suddenly moved to 8 p.m.? Tough luck ticket holders, it’s not about you. Is playoff baseball at the venue next door getting in the way of your NFL ticket usage and enjoyment? The NFL doesn’t care. Go watch the game on TV.
Is it any wonder why the NFL stubbornly holds on to its TV blackout rules? They cater to television, but if they do too good a job and flocks of people stay home to watch on big screens—well then they’re gonna blackout the game in your local market to try and get people back into the stadiums. Ridiculous.
—Jim A., Stratham, N.H.
That is an excellent point, and your words echo the sentiments of many season ticket holders I have spoken to over the years. A good friend of mine has six season tickets to Giants games and hasn’t been to a game in three or four years. He enjoys the games on TV significantly more than in the stadium, and don’t get him started on games that are flexed to prime time. If I were a fan going to games, that would infuriate me. I know it’s good for the larger football society around the country to see a better game Sunday night. But for season-ticket holders it’s a change that most of them don’t want to make.
One more point that you raised: There’s a good reason why the schedule-makers all work in the broadcast department. A long time ago, in the ’60s, when Pete Rozelle was commissioner, he determined that the NFL would grow in popularity only if it became a huge TV sport. Time has proven him correct. TV has been the driving force in the NFL’s success. So it seems natural that the schedule architects today would be television experts first, and scheduling experts second.
PUTTING THE MORNING IN MMQB. Thank you for posting MMQB earlier, around 3 a.m. ET on Monday morning. It does matter to me, since I live in Israel and we are seven hours ahead, meaning your posts are now online before 10 a.m. Israel time. Any chance on continuing this way in the 2014 regular season?
—Zev Roth, Israel
Thank you for reading in Israel. I really appreciate that. I would love to be able to tell you that I can post the column consistently before the milk gets delivered on the East Coast every Monday. But I just can’t. By the time my NBC duties are finished after the Sunday night game, and I can sit down and devote full effort to the column, it is usually around 11 or 11:30 p.m. That means that if I were to get the column up by 3, I would have 2.5 or 3 hours to sprint through all of the news of the day on Sunday. That would be okay if I were writing a 3,500-word column during the season. But it is more like a 7,500- or 8,500-word column, and I don’t think I should sacrifice some of the things that I write at 4:30 or 5:30 in the morning just so I can post the column earlier. However, I am committing this year to post the column consistently by 8 a.m. ET.
HOW IT USED TO BE DONE. As a 9-year-old Steelers fan, I was at the 1972 AFC title game during the Dolphins’ undefeated season and was crushed by the Steelers loss. A key play was a Larry Seiple fake punt run for a first down. My question is why was this game being played in Pittsburgh when the Dolphins obviously had the better record? I am guessing it may have had something to do with the college bowl schedule and the Orange Bowl that year?
—Gary, San Diego
It’s simple. In those days, the NFL scheduled home and road playoff games on an alternating basis each year. So Miami, despite having the superior record, was forced to go on the road for the championship game. Obviously, that has been changed for the better. The top-seeded team should always be at home.
MORE MONEY, MORE PROBLEMS. Going forward, what trends, if any, do you see for NFL rosters as they try and deal with the cap? As more and more teams deepen their financial commitments to the QB position, do you see a possible move away from “superstar” QBs to a more cap-friendly “ball-control game-manager”? Are the dilemmas faced by teams such as the Lions—in deep with Ndamukong Suh, Matthew Stafford, and Calvin Johnson—anomalies or more of a sign of things to come? Are we seeing the beginning of the “End Times”, as foretold in the book of Cuban? Seriously, how are teams supposed to remain competitive and retain key, core players while balancing a salary cap and fielding a product that is entertaining AND affordable for the average fan?
—David, Oneonta, N.Y.
Stars always will get paid. If the salary cap rises dramatically, quarterback pay will rise at a similar rate. The one problem I see is best explained by looking at Seattle. By the time the Seahawks have to pay Russell Wilson, they will have spent so much money at other positions they deem valuable—cornerback, safety, defensive line—that they could be pressed right up against the cap. Smart teams won’t throw silly money at every one of their players when they become free agents. The smarter way to handle your roster is to allow all but the most vital of free agents walk and then use the compensatory draft choices to replenish the roster. If you have faith in the men who draft for you, you will have faith in letting, for example, a wide receiver like Golden Tate walk in free agency. Nothing against Tate, but if you have Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas and Russell Wilson to sign in the coming year, you have to be smart and trust that you can find another Golden Tate in the draft.