Just one season after joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Leonard Fournette once again will find himself looking at a potential new landing spot as he hits free agency in 2021. Fournette hoped to use Tampa Bay as a springboard into a lucrative 2021 contract. However, after a disappointing season, the market for the former LSU standout will be intriguing.
Leonard Fournette will hit free agency once again in 2021
For the second time in as many seasons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette will hit the open market. That is usually a path reserved for older veterans trying to extend their careers as long as possible. Not 25-year-old former first-round running backs.
It hasn’t even been due to a lack of production as he was a solid running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Fournette played in 36 games in his first three seasons with the team. During that time, he rushed for 2,631 yards on 666 carries and 17 touchdowns. Fournette also showed his receiving skills, especially in year three.
Overall, he caught 134 of his 174 targets for 1,009 yards and two touchdowns. From 2017 to 2019, Fournette racked up 3,640 yards from scrimmage, eighth-most in the NFL.
The relationship between Fournette and the Jaguars had been on thin ice for a while. Going back to 2018, when then-executive vice president Tom Coughlin spoke publicly about him and his effort as well as voiding guarantees in his contract, claiming his suspension rendered them null.
Shortly after, Jaguars owner Shad Khan fired Coughlin, two days after the NFL Players Association warned players of potentially signing with the franchise because of excessive fines and player grievances.
Heading into the 2020 season, relations took a downward spiral when the Jaguars declined his fifth-year option. The club then looked for a trade but found no takers, which led to his release. It did not take long for Tampa Bay to step up and take on Leonard Fournette.
After a disappointing 2020, Fournette is likely out of Tampa Bay
The addition of Leonard Fournette made a lot of sense. He had been productive all his career, and the contract had a limited effect on the team. His one-year deal carried a base salary of $2 million and was worth up to $3.5 million. Pairing him with Tom Brady had merits. He can pass block, reliability out of the backfield as a receiver, and a secure rusher.
While it all sounded good on paper, the season went much differently.
Fournette took a backseat to RB Ronald Jones in 2020. He carried the ball just 97 times in 13 games for 367 yards but scored six touchdowns. Fournette added 36 receptions on 47 targets for 233 yards and no touchdowns through the air. 600 scrimmage yards is not quite what he had in mind when signing with the team.
It reached a bit of a climax in Week 14 when he was a healthy scratch. Instead, head coach Bruce Arians activated rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn for the first time since Week 8. The Buccaneers made it clear from the start that Ronald Jones was the guy and leader of the backfield.
Between production and knowing his place on the roster, it is doubtful we see Leonard Fournette choose to go back to Tampa Bay in the upcoming 2021 free agency period.
Where could Leonard Fournette sign as he enters free agency in 2021?
I think we can safely cross off Jacksonville and Tampa Bay. So we only have 30 other teams to choose from. I like those odds.
Leonard Fournette could head to the Atlanta Falcons in 2021
This might be the clubhouse leader for me to acquire Leonard Foutnette in free agency in 2021. The Falcons signed Todd Gurley to a one year, $5.5 million contract in 2020. So we know they are willing to spend money on a veteran running back. It’s clear Gurley’s knees are an issue, and they will let him walk.
Atlanta also wants a running back who can work in both the rushing game and the receiving game. That fits Leonard Fournette perfectly. Even if it was another one-year deal, this is the location I would put first on my list for Leonard Fournette to land once the 2021 free agency period is over.
The Seattle Seahawks could need a running back for 2021
Currently, Seahawks RB Chris Carson is scheduled to hit the open market in 2021. They absolutely could choose to bring him back, but given the load management they were doing at the end of the year, they may question his durability. That could be enough to make the franchise go in another direction.
Leonard Fournette is built to take on a large workload. He can handle a 300+ workload, and recently head coach Pete Carroll said the Seahawks need to run the ball more in 2021.
Seattle needs to win and do it soon. They recently traded away their 2021 first, a 2021 third, and 2022 first-round pick for Jamal Adams. They likely won’t want to spend their precious draft capital on a running back, so adding a proven veteran like Fournette in free agency on a two-year deal would be logical and shore up the position heading into 2021.
Why not give Deshaun Watson some help in Houston?
Houston is in a bad spot as a franchise. Of all the open head coaching vacancies, it might be the least attractive. Bill O’Brien traded away their best talent, gave away their first and second-round picks this season, and left them a projected $17.88 million over the salary cap.
One quick way to save some cap would be to cut RB David Johnson. Keeping Johnson on the roster for 2021 would result in a $12 million cap hit. If the Texans cut Johnson before June 1st, they’ll net a $9.9 million savings, leaving a $2.1 million cap hit. Surely they can find someone on a better deal who can produce the 691 yards for cheaper?
Fournette could step in and be a reliable upgrade for Watson in the backfield while they attempt to rebuild this team. That is if they don’t trade him off before the season starts.
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