Leonard Fournette’s eventual breakup with the Jaguars came right before the 2020 NFL season, instead of during 2021 free agency. Jacksonville decided to release the running back Monday, fewer than two weeks before hosting Indianapolis in Week 1.
While the Jaguars move on with the combination of Chris Thompson and Ryquell Armstead in their backfield for now, Fournette will need to find a new home earlier than expected after reportedly no team wanted to trade for him.
Where might Fournette fit best this late in free agency after being waived? The Jaguars did him no favors with the timing, but here are six teams that make the most sense, because of injuries or other concerns for their running games.
The Bears have high hopes for second-year back David Montgomery, but that enthusiasm was somewhat curbed after he suffered a groin strain in camp that could keep him out a month. Chicago’s in-house options to take Montgomery’s early-down work are either gadget-type backs (led by Tarik Cohen) or inexperienced backs.
Fournette has a connection with the Bears in quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, who was the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator last season. The Bears are intent on having a much-improved power-running game to support whoever wins their QB battle between Nick Foles and MItchell Trubisky. If it’s Foles, the slight favorite, then Fournette would reunite with the Jaguars’ Week 1 starter in 2019.
Because of all that, the Bears are easily the best bet for Fournette to land on his feet quickly.
Coach Mike Tomlin tends to like featuring one reliable workhorse, and the offense goes committee only by necessity. The team has mixed feelings on James Conner in that capacity because of his durability issues, and isn’t thrilled about piecemealing situational production with him, Benny Snell Jr. and speedy change of pace rookie Anthony McFarland.
Although Fournette hasn’t been the pillar of health during his career, he was plenty sturdy and versatile last season. The Steelers also have strong memories of Fournette running all over them and with his receiving production spiking in 2019, he might give them a more comfortable every-down option to complement an explosive downfield passing game.
The Patriots have gotten a great camp from second-year back Damien Harris, but they might consider Fournette for more power-back insurance with both Sony Michel (foot) and Lamar Miller (knee) hurting.
New England has a history of taking flyers on players such as Fournette — see Cam Newton — but it would likely need to have both reservations about Harris’ complementary workload to James White and concerns about neither Michel nor Miller being healthy early to make the move.
Washington had to say goodbye to fellow former LSU back Derrius Guice for troubling off-field issues. Between age-defying Adrian Peterson and a healthy Bryce Love, the team has its share of rushing options, to the point that free-agent pickup Peyton Barber seems expendable. Rookie Antonio Gibson is tabbed for mostly a complementary receiving role.
With Love looking good post-major knee injury and Peterson having a strong floor, Fournette might seem superfluous to join the offense his former Jaguars coordinator Jay Gruden left behind. But Fournette can’t be ruled out to clean up a committee the way Guice might have done. Washington should give adding Fournette mild-to-moderate consideration.
The Bucs have a crowd with Ronald Jones set for early lead duties, Dare Ogunbowale looking at more passing-down work and rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn waiting in the wings for a potential bigger role. The Bucs also made their veteran camp addition in LeSean McCoy. That also means Tampa is looking for backfield definition and Fournette might have some « clean it up » appeal, a la Pittsburgh and Washington.
Fournette doesn’t scream Bruce Arians type of back, however, and the Bucs may not really feel Fournette is much of an upgrade for their pass-oriented offense.
Miles Sanders is expected to have a monster second season, but he’s dealing with a « lower-body injury » that has kept him out of camp practices. Sanders and the team say he’s on track to be healthy enough in Week 1, but considering that receiving back Boston Scott, versatile Corey Clement and Elijah Holyfield are the depth behind him, Fournette might carry a little insurance intrigue.
Just like the other non-Bears teams, however, the Eagles feel like a long-shot for Fournette, too.
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