Fournette Released: The latest premier talent scheduled to explore life after Duval
News broke early Monday morning regarding Jacksonville releasing fourth year running back Leonard Fournette. This came as a shock to most observers considering the star back racked up 1,600 scrimmage yards and accounted for over 30% of the teams total offensive production last year.
Rumors swirled during draft week about the team potentially trading Fournette, but no serious talks were ever reported. Coach Doug Marrone spoke with local media members following the release and had stated that they attempted to find a trade, but were unable to get garner any interest, not even a sixth round pick was on the table. Fournette was scheduled to make just over 4 million this season, after Jacksonville declined his fifth year option earlier this year.
Jacksonville now has zero of their own first round picks on their roster outside of the last three seasons, (Henderson/Chaisson 2020; Josh Allen 2019; Taven Bryan 2018.)
Aftermath for Jacksonville
Plenty of observers view this move as tanking by the front office, however I'm seriously doubting this is the case. Tanking doesn't really make sense in the NFL, especially with how unpredictable the sports world is currently.
Marrone stated "If that happens, then I'm not going to be here".
Indeed tanking is a fan fueled debate with a handful of teams each year, but front offices are not given the patience or trust in that process. Especially for a franchise with three winning seasons in the last 20 years.
As for who finds themselves on top of the depth chart in this new Jay Gruden offense?
Expect a running-back-by-committee (RBC) approach, unless somebody emerges early in the season. Ryquel Armstead is a former fifth round pick from 2019 that shows some of the same hard nosed downhill running skills that Fournette possesses. He can also hold his own in the passing game, as his lone touchdown from his rookie campaign was a beautiful route from Minshew's most dazzling play of the year.
Then there's seven-year veteran Chris Thompson, who is very familiar with Gruden's system from their time together in Washington. He's much more of a third down receiving back than a between the tackles type of player.
The dark horse candidate currently on the roster, (don't rule out a veteran signing such as Devonta Freeman,) undrafted rookie James Robinsion out of Illinois State.
Highly regarded as a third-to-sixth round pick entering the draft, he was one of the most highly sought free agents. Robinson has the second most rushing yards in school history (4,444), and posted a monster 2019 campaign (1,899 yds 18 TD's.) Don't be surprised if this guy ends up running the show by mid-season.
Aftermath for Fournette
Look for Fournette to have a job quickly, but not until he clears waivers. I don't expect another team to value Fournette at his current contract or else they would have spent the sixth round pick on him.
After issues with attitude and off field issues swirled in his first few seasons, he really changed that perception last year. Reports from inside the team is that he is a great locker room guy and Marrone was adamant this was a strictly on field based move.
The biggest on field knock on Fournette is that he lacks elite NFL caliber "miss-ability." He was able to dazzle the nation in highschool and college, punishing linebackers, but the stoutness of NFL defenses has hampered Fournette as evidence by his low career YPC and underwhelming touchdown numbers.
Nonetheless, he's a productive, reliable back who is great in pass protection and quickly proving himself as a threat receiving as well. I would be stunned if he isn't suiting up somewhere by Week 1.