Mid-Season Quarterback Stories

Updated: October 31st 2018

Numerous interesting stories exist at the midway point in the NFL season from Patrick Mahomes emergence to the uptick in offensive production across the league.  This article looks at a few quarterback situations in flux and what that means rest of season for your fantasy team.  The writing concentrates on the Bortles scenario and how Jacksonville arrived in the place they are, with lessons learned from how they handled his contract.

The Blake Bortles Saga

Jacksonville benched Blake Bortles week 7 in a move which clearly foreshadows the end of his time as starting quarterback for the Jaguars sometime in the near future.  The question remains how did the Jaguars get to this point with Bortles still as their starting quarterback and significant money left on his contract?  A calamity of faulty reasoning and different biases supply a big piece of the answer and give examples for NFL teams and RSO GMs of what not to do to get in this type of trouble.

  1. Jacksonville picks up Bortles’ 5th year option. This act set in motion future events for the Jaguars with relation to Bortles. General manger Dave Caldwell picked up Bortles’ option under two primary reasons.  First, Caldwell contends the $19 million option was a relative bargain at quarterback.

“I think that slots him as the 16th highest quarterback next year, right around the median,” Caldwell said. “If he was to get the franchise tender that puts him at the third or fourth or fifth ranked quarterback depending on who gets new deals next year.”

The obvious question that comes to mind is what possible reason would the Jaguars have in franchising Bortles?  No other NFL team was going to give Bortles anything remotely close to $19 million per season, much less the expense of a franchised quarterback.  The odds that another team would have even given him a starting opportunity were extremely low at the time.  It is clear Caldwell misevaluated Bortles value, both on the open market and to his own team.  The fact that Bortles was Caldwell’s first pick for Jacksonville likely influenced his decision to pick up the option.

The second reason given by Caldwell for picking up Bortles’ option is his relatively cheap two-year salary with the extension.

“We look at two-year values on our contracts,” Caldwell said. “I think this year he’s scheduled to make about $3.2 million in cash, and then the $19 million next year is just a little over $22 million, it’s a two-year, $11 million average on what is considered a new deal, and that puts him not in the Top 16 of quarterbacks.”

This classical error may be seen across the business world.  The final year of Bortles’ rookie contract was already locked in and should have had no bearing on the new decision to pick up his option.  What the deal averages out to when including old contract numbers is irrelevant.

Lesson for RSO GMs:  Take your ego out of decisions when franchising or extending players.  Do not let the fact that you drafted a player influence your decision on future contracts and his worth.  Examine the player’s expected value in your league to determine an appropriate salary and be prepared to move on if the franchise tag or extension price is too high.

  1. Jacksonville signs Bortles to three-year extension. Caldwell doubled down on the option mistake by signing him to a three-year $54 million extension following the season. The extension, in part, stems from the option by reducing the $19 million cap hit to a more reasonable $10 million in 2018.  This came at the cost of $16.5 million in dead cap for 2019 which makes releasing Bortles in 2019 an expensive option.  Cap room was not the only reason for the extension however.  Jacksonville believed Bortles made significant progress in 2017 and was a piece of Jacksonville’s future.

“Blake’s growth and development last season was a key to the success we had as a team,” Jaguars executive VP Tom Coughlin said in a release from the team. “Blake has proven, with toughness and dependability, that he can be the leader this team needs going forward. Along with this contract come high expectations that he will continue to improve and help our team accomplish its ultimate goal.”

So how did Jaguars management get fooled into believing in Bortles long-term?  The answer is Bortles performed well near the end of the year in 2017.  He was averaging a very Bortles-like 58% completion percentage and 6.4 yards per attempt to go with 12 touchdowns and 8 interceptions through 11 weeks last season.  He followed that up the next four weeks averaging a robust 9.1 yards per attempt with a 69% completion percentage to go with 9 touchdowns.  Bortles also finished the season with an impressive outing versus New England in the AFC championship game.  How did he accomplish this upgrade in play?  The Jaguars faced incredibly soft passing defenses during those games with Football Outsiders’ 21st, 25th, 28th, and 32nd ranked pass efficiency defenses to go along with a Seattle defense decimated by injuries at the end of season.  The Jaguars saw progress where in reality Bortles simply faced lower-end pass defenses and took advantage of the matchups.  They ignored the long body of work and let a handful of games dictate their outlook.  Jacksonville is now stuck in an ugly situation with no long-term answer at quarterback and the short-term solution is unenviable at best on a team which just missed the Super Bowl last season.

Lesson for RSO GMs:  Do not let recency bias distort your view of players too much.  Relying on players based on a handful of recent games while ignoring everything before can lead to disaster for your fantasy team.

Rest of Season Fantasy Outlook: Bortles was a lower-end streaming option before the benching.  He is almost impossible to trust now, even as a streamer, given that he may be benched in any game.  Look at Bortles as an emergency starter in 2QB and superflex leagues.

Jameis Winston

Bortles was not the only quarterback benched recently.  Winston got the hook after a disastrous four interception game versus Cincinnati last week.  The Bucs have already named Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was benched for Winston earlier, the starter next week.  No one really knows after that.  Winston might relieve Fitzpatrick next week if he struggles or at some future week if Tampa Bay is eliminated from contention.  Tampa Bay put the fifth year option on Winston which is guaranteed for injury only.  This means he also might never see the field again in Tampa Bay if they have determined he is not part of their future in order to eliminate injury risk.

Rest of Season Fantasy Outlook:  Chaotic. Impossible to predict.  What we do know is tremendous weekly upside exists for whoever throws the ball.  Tampa Bay averages 376 passing yards per game (58 more than the next highest team) with a stable of high-end receiving threats and a defense among the league’s worst.  The upcoming schedule is also great for Tampa Bay passers.  Definitely grab Fitzpatrick if he is on your waiver wire.  The upside is so high that I would not mind having both him and Winston on my roster.  The main problem lies in the fact that either may be benched on any given week possibly ruining you fantasy week.

Eli Manning

Career finishes rarely end well for NFL star players.  Their skills diminish quickly toward the end and they almost never are able to make an accurate assessment of their lower abilities.  Manning is no different.  Manning is a statue in the pocket with non-existent movement skills who freezes up anytime pressure presents itself playing on a team which really struggles protecting the passer.  In this case, the organization failed miserably in evaluating Manning and a New York roster which won three games last season.  Management vastly over-estimated this roster and the ability to play competitive football weekly.  No realistic backup plan exists for Manning and the quarterback spot.

Rest of Season Fantasy Outlook:  Manning is a lower-end starting option in two QB leagues.  The Giants season is virtually over already which means they may want to get a look at younger quarterbacks on the roster.  Be prepared with other options if you are counting on Manning in your league.


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

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