Leonard Fournette Landing Spots: Dolphins, Bills, and Chargers Make Sense After Buccaneers Release

Where should Leonard Fournette sign, and what's his value? We break down three teams Fournette could sign with in 2023 and project his contract.

The 2023 NFL offseason is going to bring plenty of rumors between free agency and the NFL draft. We’ll see playmakers who are being released from teams that underachieved in 2022 and need to create cap space. Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette was one of the first veterans released before the start of free agency.

We’re breaking down three possible landing spots for Fournette and his contract value as he enters the next phase of his career. Let’s dive into his best fits as he enters his seventh season in the NFL.

Leonard Fournette’s Contract Value

Fournette, 28, was set to count $8.47 million against the Buccaneers’ cap in 2023. But with the Buccaneers needing to trim $56 million off their cap sheet, the veteran running back was an easy candidate to release as the team embraces a rebuild.

According to Jordan Schultz of The Score, Fournette had requested his release so he could look for a “fresh start” and “compete for another Super Bowl.”

The running back position is bleak when looking at their positional value. Fournette was one of only 11 NFL RBs making at least $7 million per year on his last deal before his release. Of that group, Aaron Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, and Joe Mixon have either already had their contracts adjusted or have been mentioned as potential cap casualties this offseason.

Fournette no longer presented value to the Buccaneers after Tom Brady retired earlier this offseason. With the team not able to contend for a Super Bowl, it made little sense to bring Fournette back with his salary. He averaged only 3.5 yards per carry in 2022, capping off a three-year stint with the franchise.

MORE: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offseason Preview

His best contribution to the Buccaneers was as a receiver and playoff rusher. He totaled 1,210 receiving yards in the regular season in that span. His 300 rushing yards in the 2020 playoffs en route to a Super Bowl win is what led to his extension after initially signing a one-year deal.

Considering he’s averaged under four yards a carry in four of his six seasons, Fournette is more of a battering ram with receiving upside than anything else. He’s not overly explosive but has proven to be durable in recent years.

Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht praised Fournette at the NFL Combine, saying he believes he has “several years left in him as a three-down back”, but teams won’t pay him accordingly unless they believe the Buccaneers’ offensive line was more to blame than his talent.

With his advancing age, past weight concerns, and mediocre production, Fournette should be paired with a younger back or behind a solid vet who needs to be spelled to stay fresh. A short-term deal worth around $5 million per year would be fitting for his level of impact.

3 Teams That Should Sign Leonard Fournette

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins did well to squeeze production from their cast of veteran free agent signings and trade targets in 2022, but there wasn’t a star in their backfield.

Raheem Mostert was the best of a group that featured Chase Edmonds and Jeff Wilson Jr., but no one was able to plant their foot as someone worth investing in long term. Edmonds was traded to Denver in the Bradley Chubb deal, and Wilson was added from the 49ers shortly after.

Both Mostert and Wilson are free agents, and Miami doesn’t have a ton of cap space available unless they maximize their restructures and veteran cuts. Fournette can steady a unit that can be overhauled in the draft. Though Mostert has a speed advantage over Fournette, the latter is a better receiver and is more durable in comparison.

It’s possible Fournette is rejuvenated by head coach Mike McDaniel’s big-play offense. Despite not being notably great talents, Mostert and Wilson averaged 4.9 yards and 4.7 yards per carry, respectively. Neither was heavily involved in the passing game, but Mostert was more consistently featured of the two.

Unless Fournette comes at a discount, it’s hard to imagine Miami will want to retain both of their in-house backs and then add Fournette. Brining in Fournette and a Day 3 draft pick would be more financially feasible.

Los Angeles Chargers

There’s no question about who the lead back is in Los Angeles. Austin Ekeler is coming off a great year, producing 1,637 yards and 18 touchdowns on 311 touches. Turning 28 this offseason, Ekeler seems likely to hold out for a new contract after averaging just $6 million on his current deal.

The Chargers should pay Ekeler but also add more competent depth behind him. Backups Joshua Kelly, Sony Michel, and Isaiah Spiller were awful in 2022, showing a lack of burst and vision. LA was fortunate that Ekeler played in all 17 games, or else their run game would’ve been completely worthless.

MORE: Running Back Free Agency Rankings

Adding Fournette as a high-end backup can bolster an offense that has expensive playmakers but lacks depth. Sure, he’s a luxury, but if the team is resistant to paying Ekeler then they may need to pivot.

Fournette can offer similar results as a receiver if he’s needed to fill in for any amount of time.

Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills have poured resources into the backfield over the last few years but haven’t found someone truly capable of taking some of the pressure off Josh Allen yet.

Fournette isn’t a star, but he showed he’s capable of keeping an offense on schedule with consistent runs and adding value as a receiver. With Devin Singletary hitting free agency, Fournette can bring a more physical skill set to a backfield lacking identity.

The combination of Fournette, second-year back James Cook, and veteran Nyheim Hines is at least more formidable than what they had in 2022. This would also allow them to surpass a first-round running back without fear of leaving a gaping hole at the position this coming season or breaking the bank for a star.

Instead, signing Fournette would give the team flexibility to bolster the offensive line in the draft. Improving the interior blocking would benefit both Allen and Fournette. There’s also the cost efficiency of drafting a quality blocker vs. spending heavily on one in free agency compared to spending moderately on Fournette.

Though the two play differently, I have little doubt Fournette could produce similarly to Singletary’s 4.6-yard average as a rusher and 7.4 yards as a receiver. He’d benefit from the offense’s spacing while inflicting pain on defenses opting to fill the field with smaller defensive backs.

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