Leonard Fournette Released!
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The marriage was rocky between Leonard Fournette and the Jacksonville Jaguars, and they’re now divorced. The team waived its former fourth-overall pick on Monday, ending a irreparable relationship that also saw the Jaguars decline his fifth-year option months ago, which hinted at things to come. In an attempt to move on before now, they put out trade feelers, but head coach Doug Marrone says the club couldn’t get a single draft pick — late and/or conditional — for Fournette, leaving them no other choice in his eyes.
And with that, Fournette goes from being one of the most heralded draft prospects in recent memory just three years ago, to a bit of a pariah. The stench of the latter could [also] be easily attributed to a floundering Jaguars club the has been forced to jettison a laundry list of top talent over the past few seasons, considering the NFLPA grievance against now-fired Tom Coughlin and all matter of violation that stemmed from his actions that led to it, along with the fact the Jaguars simply haven’t been a winning team since reaching the AFC Championship Game in Fournette’s first year.
They’re 11-21 since that trip, and the turnover has been massive. And one day after trading defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to the Minnesota Vikings — after he refused to ever again play in Jacksonville and subsequently took a $5 million pay cut to leave — it’s now Fournette heading out of the door.
But where to? Here are five teams who should seriously consider tossing him a jersey for 2020.
Yes, the Patriots already have a starting running back in Sony Michel, a former first-round pick himself, but they haven’t truly been able to depend on him since grabbing him with the 31st-overall pick in 2018. Michel has consistently battled injury over the course of his first two seasons in the NFL, and it’s already cost him several games. It’s also dampened his production when on the field a bit, because while his 1,987 career yards from scrimmage mark (with 13 touchdowns) is nothing to shake a stick at, he’s yet to reach his full potential. The Patriots are also now seeing him duke it out with former third-round pick Damien Harris in camp, after Michel began camp on the team’s PUP list following offseason foot surgery.
Enter Fournette, a proven NFL talent who also drew the ire of the Jaguars organization for rebuking Gardner Minshew this offseason and telling the team to sign Cam Newton instead. That’s the same Cam Newton who will likely start for the Patriots when the regular season opens, by the way, if you smell what The Rock is cooking. The only question here is character, but Bill Belichick isn’t afraid to roll those dice, and even less so when the player has 3,640 career yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns in three seasons.
A fresh start is usually the right medicine for players exiting Jacksonville, and going from the Jaguars to the Patriots could see Fournette refocused and rededicated to torching defenses. He’d also go a long way to ensuring Belichick has insurance at RB1, and the chemistry with Newton should be readymade.
That guy who used to be the quarterback of the Patriots and is now in Tampa would love a beefy RB.
True, the Bucs are attempting to appease Tom Brady by signing LeSean McCoy to a one-year deal, but McCoy lost his spot to a young halfback in Kansas City before being shelved in the Super Bowl. And if McCoy is being projected by anyone to be the team’s lead back for Week 1, well, that simply drives home my point regarding concern at the position. Adding Fournette would keep him in Florida, where there’s no state tax, something he’s sure to be keen on when considering he will need to keep as many of his coins near as possible in the event he loses the $4 million grievance against the Jaguars, and puts him with Brady and Bruce Arians — two people who are unequivocal in what they demand from players (both in character and in production).
It’s a doable deal financially as well, because although the Bucs have a scant $2.24 million in cap space currently — via Overthecap.com — Fournette isn’t in position to command big money. A one-year prove-it deal would give him the chance to join a club on the verge of becoming a winner, on an offense loaded with receiving talent, under a proven head coach, behind a six-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, and right next door to the team he loathes in North Florida. It’s perfect for Fournette, truly, and he could parlay a dynamic 2020 into a multi-year deal with the RB-needy Bucs next offseason.
As far as future tense goes, should he stick around, the Bucs would enjoy seeing a rotation that includes Fournette, Ronald Jones, II and young talent like either Ke’Shawn Vaughn or Raymond Calais, so this really becomes more and more of a no-brainer if you think about it. Tampa Bay is all in on winning a Super Bowl in 2020, and signing Fournette would play right into that narrative.
If you’re sitting in the front office in Miami and you’re reading this, pick up the phone.
Trust me, I get it. You added Matt Breida and Jordan Howard this offseason, but pick up the phone. You like the upside on Myles Gaskin, but pick up the phone. You see something in Patrick Laird, but pi-… you get the point here. With the issue of quarterback now seemingly solved and Tua Tagovailoa readying to be the face of the franchise for the next half decade or more, he needs some help in the backfield. Sending away Kenyan Drake by way of trade with the Arizona Cardinals ended swimmingly for them, but it left the Dolphins without a feature back en route to seeing Ryan Fitzpatrick (!!) lead the team in rushing with only 243 (!!!) yards in 2019, and he also led the team in rushing touchdowns with four.
That’s as ugly as the witch who gave Snow White the apple, but at least she had an apple. Prior to adding Breida and Howard, the RB room was in dire straits, and it still can’t be viewed as « elite » for 2020. Breida did good things for the 49ers, but he’s not the offensive bully Fournette is. Howard is a bit of a different story, seeing as he has two 1,000-yard rushing seasons under his belt, but a tandem of Fournette and Howard is just feels downright more impactful than Breida and Howard in a rideshare capacity.
And the Dolphins need the most powerful one-two punch they can get to help out Tagovailoa. From there, the club could use Breida as both insurance and a spell RB, while developing some of the younger talent behind the trio.
Lastly, but also of significant importance, is the fact grabbing Fournette would eliminate the Patriots’ ability to do so. That’s not a primary reason to make the move, but it is most definitely something to help fuel the motivation to sign him, considering Miami is hoping to finally take the AFC East crown in 2020 — having not done so since 2008 and achieving the goal only twice since the turn of the century.
Breaking news, I know, but it’s a reminder that the Rams could use a bully in the backfield for 2020. Even with reduced utilization in 2019, Gurley still led the team with 1,064 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns. You can love the potential of Malcolm Brown and still point out the fact he posted only 271 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns last season. Now that he’s the feature back in Los Angeles, the added reps will inevitably cause those numbers to go up, but it’s not a guarantee he’ll suddenly rack up 1,200 rushing yards in his first season as the top dog. In his five-year career, Brown has never rushed for more than the 255 yards he delivered in 2019, and had only two touchdowns in the four seasons prior — before his career-best five last year.
Contrarily, even a disgruntled Fournette on the most toxic team in football produced in a big way, so imagine what he might do if added to a team with a winning culture who also needs him to help lead the way. There are other bodies in the Rams RB room, and they are talented as well (e.g., Darrell Henderson, second-round rookie Cam Akers), but the football resume simply isn’t there for them either. This is a situation where adding Fournette creates a definitive focal point for opposing defenses that will take pressure off of Jared Goff, and open up the passing game as Sean McVay intends.
Pairing Fournette with Brown is simply smart football business, assuming McVay and Co. can keep the former fourth-overall pick a happy camper, by way of ensuring he’s the lead back. It’s when Fournette gets disgruntled that things go dark, but that’s why they call it being « disgruntled ».
Washington is desperate to find a successor to Adrian Peterson after several failed attempts since signing him. It’s not lack of production that warrants them locating an heir, but age and contract, because the future Hall of Famer is a ripe 35 years old and entering the final year of his deal. So even if Peterson can still produce, it doesn’t mean he’ll land another contract in Washington, despite feeling he has upwards of four more years left in him. They tried benching Peterson in Week 1 of the 2019 season to give former second-round pick Derrious Guice, but were forced to give the reins back to Peterson in Week 2 and beyond due to yet another injury to Guice. With Guice now released following a troubling detailing of domestic violence allegations, there’s a free seat ready and waiting for Fournette.
Rookie third-round pick Antonio Gibson helps the room, but he’s not taken a snap in the NFL just yet, and there’s no preseason for him to acclimate more quickly; so put a pin in that. Bryce Love, Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic all have talent, but you could roll them together into a ball and wouldn’t equal what Fournette has done at the NFL level. For all the bodies in the RB room in Washington, Peterson is the only one that would strike any sort of fear into the heart of a defense, and he’s possibly on his way out in 2021.
Sign Fournette on an incentive-laden prove-it deal to challenge Peterson for reps. If he can’t beat out an aging Peterson, take what you get from him in production and move on in the offseason. If, however, Fournette hits prime form and nudges Peterson out of the way, the test drive proves successful, and there could be a multi-year re-up for the 25-year-old — possibly tethering him to Dwayne Haskins for the next several seasons and helping to create a solid offensive corps for the future.
The biggest risk here is, of the teams mentioned, Washington is least likely to be a winner in 2020; but Fournette can’t exactly be too picky as he desperately needs to rebuild his brand, and pronto.
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