Could the former No. 4 overall pick land with a contender like the Chiefs or Patriots?
At long last, the rocky marriage between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Leonard Fournette has ended. Just 10 days before the start of the NFL season, the franchise released its one-time star running back, unable to find a trade partner willing to give up even a late-round draft pick.
Fournette's tenure in Jacksonville may be best remembered for what he wasn't. Three years after surprising everyone by drafting Blake Bortles fifth overall, the team still wasn't ready to move on at quarterback. In a draft that included Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes — and at a time when running backs' low value had become very mainstream — the Jags took Fournette. In a draft that also included Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Alvin Kamara.
Fournette's career numbers look good at first glance: 2,631 rushing yards in 36 games. But that was also a matter of volume, as he was under four yards per carry in two of his three seasons. He also was not much of a factor in the passing game until last season in an age where that has become necessary for running backs to maintain value.
Since he was drafted so high, Fournette's cap figure was quickly outpacing his production. The Jaguars also think they can get out of his contract guarantees because of his suspension during the 2018 season, although both parties will have to wait for an arbitrator to make a decision. However, should Fournette clear waivers, which is the expectation, and if he is willing to take a discount — especially if he gets the $4 million Jacksonville potentially owes him — there should be no shortage of suitors.
Several teams that could use a running back upgrade may not have the cap flexibility to sign him. The Steelers, Rams, and Buccaneers all selected running backs in April's draft because they were not content with their backfield situation, but each team has less than $5 million in cap space.
Still, it's easy to dream on the star at LSU who looked like a future stud. He may still be able to run over defenders if he lands in the right home. Here's a look at the five most likely landing spots for Fournette as he tries to reestablish his value.
Kansas City Chiefs
This idea has to scare everyone in the NFL. The Chiefs already had the most explosive offense in the league before adding Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the draft, and now they could add another LSU Tiger to their backfield? After Damien Williams opted out of the season, Kansas City is a little thin and could use some better (or at least more proven) depth over Darwin Thompson, DeAndre Washington, and Darrel Williams.
Andy Reid has typically opted for more well-rounded running backs in the Brian Westbrook mold, but the Chiefs could use a goal-line option like Fournette. Mahomes is fantastic, and the Chiefs' offense is nearly unstoppable, but they were just 11th in the red zone last season. After Travis Kelce, Fournette could become the defending Super Bowl champs' second-best weapon on the goal line.
Washington Football Team
It's a very Dan Snyder move to pick up a former first-rounder whose former team happily gave him away. Fournette is no Albert Haynesworth, but he fits a pattern for the franchise and fills a need after the team released Derrius Guice for his domestic violence charges.
If Fournette is going to turn his career around, working under Ron Rivera, who oversaw Christian McCaffrey's ascent, might be his best option. The question will be whether Washington wants to see what it has in Bryce Love and Antonio Gibson before committing to Fournette. His skill set also is redundant to Adrian Peterson's, so the team may not want to keep both backs. However, they do have the fourth-most cap space in the league, so he's certainly worth a flier.
New England Patriots
One of the three teams with more cap space than Washington? The Patriots, of course. With a league-high eight players opting out this season, Bill Belichick has plenty of money to work with this season, and Fournette would be the latest in a long line of disgruntled stars to rebuild their image in New England. Think 2004 Corey Dillon and 2007 Randy Moss rather than 2011 Chad Ochocinco or 2019 Antonio Brown.
The Patriots have been happy to use a committee of backs, but the offense looked particularly bad last season with Sony Michel and James White both averaging fewer than four yards per carry and White and Rex Burkhead stagnating in the passing game. Fournette could be a super-charged version of LeGarrette Blount.
The Seahawks were one of the most run-heavy teams last season, and there are few things Pete Carroll loves more than a power rusher. Well, except on 2nd-and-goal on the 1. All jokes aside, it's easy to see Fournette as the heir apparent to Beast Mode in Seattle.
Chris Carson is a fine running back, but the Seahawks drafted DeeJay Dallas and brought in Carlos Hyde because they were unhappy with their depth. And Fournette is nothing if not a better, younger Hyde. Rashaad Penny is on the PUP while recovering from offseason reconstructive knee surgery, and Seattle has nearly $15 million in cap space to work with, so there are plenty of reasons for this to make sense.
This is a similar situation to Seattle where the team is content with its starter but is hurting for depth. Worse yet, Miles Sanders has been battling a lower-body injury, and the team had been hoping to make him a workhorse back after jettisoning Jordan Howard. Boston Scott and Corey Clement do not appear to be answers there.
The Eagles have found success with power rushers like Howard and Jay Ajayi in the past, and Fournette could help add another dimension to the offense. Receiver is a greater area of need, but Sanders is an excellent pass catcher, and there aren't many great wideouts on the market unless you're willing to deal with Antonio Brown.