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AFC South Roundup: Chris Ivory Cut, Blake Bortles Extended, Freshening Up TITAN UP, and Andrew Luck Feels Awesome

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The AFC South is rumbling.

NFL: AFC Championship-Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last week so many things happened in the AFC South. For the entire spring and summer, this is how it’s going to be. Houston has tons of cap space and roster holes. Indianapolis has an enormous amount of resources to dramatically improve their roster, and there’s always Andrew Luck to wonder about. The Titans are undergoing a coaching change and also have cap space to move. The Jaguars are trying to go from feel good to a great football team.

Already in this newborn offseason, things are happening in the AFC South. Big news has already come out of Jacksonville, Tennessee, and Indianapolis.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars first made an easy decision, and then they made a very difficult one. The first was cutting Chris Ivory. This contract was a disaster way back in 2016. They signed him to a five-year, $32 million contract with $10 million guaranteed at the age of 28 years after he came off a seven touchdown and 1,070 yards on 247 carries season.

That year Ivory also had a DVOA of -11.5% (39th) and a DYAR of -31 (40th). He was a ‘punishing’ plodder. Running backs already have a shorter age curve than other positions. Running backs with his style get worn out even quicker than the average back. At 28, Ivory was already an old running back. Jacksonville signed him to combine forces with second round pick T.J. Yeldon, but they paid $6 million a year to do it. They also didn’t even get someone to help out with their goal line woes. Ivory was stuffed for zero yards or less 26 times in short yardage situations. He averaged 1.37 yards a carry and converted a first down 46.3% of the time on rushes less with than three yards to go. Jacksonville paid a lot for something they didn’t even get.

All of that was before Ivory was signed. During his two years in Jacksonville, Ivory started just four games and only played in 25. He averaged 3.6 yards a carry, 32.8 yards per game, had four touchdowns, 821 yards on 229 carries, and he finished last in DVOA and DYAR in 2016 before following that up among the bottom in 2017. Chris Ivory helped goad Jacksonville into using a top five pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on a running back.

The deal was dumb when it was first signed and it ended up being dumber whenever it was put into motion. By cutting Ivory, the Jaguars saved $4 million in cap space in 2018, though Jacksonville will be stuck paying $3 million in dead money this year. This decision brought the Jaguars’ total cap space for 2018 to a little more than $21 million.

This figure was based off paying Bortles his fifth-year option. With regard to Bortles, Jacksonville had three options: (1) Pay Bortles $19 million for his fifth year; (2) cut him and look to free agency, trade, or the draft to replace him; or (3) extend him to save money this year and look to keep him as the starter moving forward.

Jacksonville chose the last option. They signed Blake Bortles to a three-year, $54 million deal.

All the contract specifics haven’t been announced yet, but it’s speculated that the new deal will drop Bortles’ salary from $19 million to $10 million this year, giving Jacksonville slightly more than $31 million to use over the next month.

Since Bortes was drafted, he has gone everywhere. He went from big armed athlete/scout’s wet dream, to downfield throwing go up and get it, to mechanically broken sad sack, to turnover machine, to playoff winning game manager. Never has a quarterback bounced around between so many labels four years into his career.

The last one is why Bortles got extended. Bortles was a tertiary part of a football team that won two playoff games because of their defense. In both playoff games, he threw touchdowns, hit some downfield throws, ran all over man coverage for first downs, and did just enough. However, he was the reason why the Jaguars failed to break the neck of New England. Despite his superb Bortellian 2.5% interception rate, the Jags were afraid of him turning the ball over in their own red zone that second half. That fear snipped the Achilles’ tendon off their offense. They went into over-cautious, hold on mode while New England roared back. This, plus Jacksonville’s limited playbook, kept a more talented football team from playing in last year’s Super Bowl.

The key for Bortles’ contract to work is the defense playing great, which they will, the run game improving, which should happen if they improve at the left guard position by replacing soon to be free agent Patrick Omameh, and whether the coaching staff doesn’t treat Bortles like a balding rattle snake. There are games when they will need Bortles to heave it instead of just hand it off to Leonard Fournette and try not to turn it over. If Bortles can get better, which quarterbacks his age usually do, and the coaching staff learns from their mistakes, Jacksonville is a pen and paper Super Bowl contender in 2018.

Additionally, the extra cap space opens the door for Jacksonville to re-sign Allen Robinson this year without having to maneuver money and push it down the line. The Jags’ offensive game plan made the most sense for them in 2017. But it was a game plan without Robinson at wide receiver. If Robinson returns to Jacksonville, his presence could evaporate the double-wrapped safety the Jaguars played with last season and lead to Jacksonville treating Bortles less like a leper.

Bortles isn’t entirely safe, though. I’m guessing Jacksonville can get out of this contract after two seasons. Chad Henne will probably move on as the backup quarterback. The Jags will likely look to the draft to find a backup quarterback to groom since the rest of the roster isn’t gasping for air. They could even make a run at a free agent on a one-year deal in case this new extension doesn’t immediately work out.

There are too many unknowns and variables to feel too much either way about this deal. I do think Bortles is underrated to an extent. The coaching staff let the team down in New England last January; it wasn’t the other way around. But this is a crazy free agent quarterback class, and with how they utilized Bortles, it’s not a hot take to say the Jags aren’t fully confident in him. So why not take the big swing and add a better quaterback to lead one of the most talented rosters in football?

If Jacksonville is truly confident in Bortles, continues to mold a better suited game plan around him, and stays aggressive, this is a great deal because the length and the cap space it provides a possible Super Bowl contender this season. But if they fail to learn, and Bortles goes back to his old turnover ways, it will lead to a lot of what-ifs in Jacksonville with the talent they have.

Tennessee Titans

Being a Titans fan is difficult. You have to deal with a team defined by their inability to change based on their opponent, existential questioning of Marcus Mariota’s ability, an insane Mike Vrabel leader of men signing, and heartbreak from 2000 that you have never been able to fully get over.

The most strenuous aspect of hollering “TITAN UP!” has 100% been the uniforms. That ghastly, two-toned darkened navy combined with former Oiler light blue is a color combination only seen in Tennessee and on chain restaurant butcher paper table mats accompanied by two of the three crayons you are handed to kill the time until the face stuffing begins. The colors droop together. The darker blue doesn’t even match with the white. It fades like stomach butterfly gardens. Really, the color combination is a pair of light blue jeans and a dark blue t-shirt, which is what I wear to work when I’m struggling to make the key turn to “start.”

Soon, that’s going to change. The Titans have showcased a twentieth year anniversary logo even though anniversaries are usually celebrated at the 25 year mark. The logo is another sword, that same sword, emblazoned onto a shield, with “20” plastered in the center.

On April 4th, the Titans will have a free Florida Georgia Line concert in the fifth circle of hell to showcase their newest set of jerseys. Dammit. It looks like I’m going to have to cancel going to the Grand Canyon.

Uniform changes usually make a team better. The fresh threads come when a new ownership group arrives, or a new head coach shows up, or sometimes it just expunges the crust of futility off a franchise. I’m sure you are unlike me and don’t care about this team getting better. Hopefully, at a minimum, the jerseys have some pop to them so when Houston plays Tennessee twice this year the aesthetics won’t be as bland as the Vrabel-led football is going to be.

Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck Facetimed with Peter King, which is now JOURNALISM, which is perfect postmodern football. In the eight minute interview, Luck talked about how he feels, (Awesome!), and that he can kind of sort of throw a football. He is still building up to actually really being able to throw a football. He gives details about being in the midst of a hero’s journey. Also, he is 100% done with shoulder surgeries now.

If Luck is actually healthy, with the resources the Colts have, Indianapolis could bounce back to become a playoff team immediately. Dramatic improvements are what happen when you improve at quarterback and head coach in a sport defined by small sample sizes. As an AFC South loyalist, this is great news. As a Houston Texans fan, this is horrifying news.

The Colts also resigned Adam Vinatieri to kick for his 23rd season. He was alright last year. He made 29 of 34 field goals, missing a field goal from each set of 20 yard increments, and went 91.7% on extra points.

Nobody’s home is the horseshoe. Not even a horse’s home is a horseshoe.