ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Aside from a conversation with 9NEWS four weeks ago, Broncos Country never got to meet veteran quarterback Blake Bortles.
And now he says goodbye.
With the Los Angeles Rams in a quarterback crisis following thumb surgery to starter Jared Goff and likely needing a win to capture a playoff spot, the team signed Bortles away from the Broncos’ practice squad Monday.
Bortles was first-round draft pick and five-year starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars before he was released following the 2018 season and spent last year as the Rams’ No. 2 quarterback to Goff. A free agent again this offseason, Bortles remained available on the open market until Broncos’ starting quarterback Drew Lock went down with a separated shoulder in week 2 against Pittsburgh.
Bortles was signed to the Broncos’ practice squad, was quickly called up to the 53-man roster for two games but was inactive for both, then was waived back to the practice squad when Lock returned.
For a couple hours on Saturday, Nov. 28, it appeared Bortles would be the Broncos’ starting quarterback the following day against the Saints as the league determined Lock and backup Brett Rypien were high-risk close contacts to Jeff Driskel, who later tested positive for COVID. Bortles was in the back of the room, and but the league eventually officiously determined he was at risk and placed him on COVID reserve as well. The Broncos called up receiver Kendall Hinton, a former college quarterback, from the practice squad to serve as an emergency quarterback against the Saints. To predictable results as the Saints won a non-competitive game, 31-3.
"I heard the same news and was pretty excited about hopefully getting the opportunity, even if it would have been under some bad circumstances," Bortles told 9NEWS in early December. "But I thought I was going to get a chance. I guess in the video they watched I was the furthest away from everybody. But they came back and axed all of us."
Bortles then became the Broncos’ “quarantine” quarterback, often practicing at the facility when the team was not practicing.
"I enjoy being around it," Bortles said. "It’s all I’ve ever done. I love being around the guys, I love football. I don’t necessarily view myself as being on the practice squad or any of that stuff. You’re on a team and that’s an extremely fortunate opportunity."
Bortles now goes from the practice squad of the 5-10 Broncos to the 9-6 Rams, who will make the NFC playoffs as a wild card if they beat Arizona in the regular season finale Sunday. Backup QB John Wolford will start for the Rams but Bortles, who led the Jaguars to the 2017-season AFC Championship Game, is familiar with coach Sean McVay’s offense after operating it in practice last year.
Bortles had been approached by at least one other team to sign to its 53-man roster but at the time he didn’t think it was a good fit and elected to stay on the Broncos’ practice squad. The fit, and opportunity, is aligned well for him now.
Living with defeat
Broncos head coach Vic Fangio was asked Monday which of his team’s 10 losses this season hurt the most.
"All of them," he said. "They're all equally tough. Everyone eats at you in different ways, for different reasons, but a loss is a loss and they suck."
As he has for most of the season, Lock played mostly well Sunday against the Chargers, but not well enough to win.
'I thought he made a lot of good throws," Fangio said. "Obviously, his numbers would be better (24 of 47 for 264 yards, 2 interceptions) if we had caught a few of them. I thought he made a lot of good throws, I thought there was some throws that could have been a little more accurate, but I haven't lost my enthusiasm for Drew at all. I think he can be a good quarterback in this league. He's shown flashes of it and he's shown periods and stretches of it, we just have to become more consistent."
The Broncos are confronting an enormous decision with their quarterback position this offseason. Lock has the best chance to open 2021 as the team’s starting quarterback, but that would require another leap of faith as he is the 35th-ranked QB in the 32-team league this year. Management is expected to look closely at other options, either a veteran with starting experience or a prospect in the upper rounds of the draft.
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