Realistic Landing Spot Predictions for Leonard Fournette After Surprise Release

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 31, 2020

Realistic Landing Spot Predictions for Leonard Fournette After Surprise Release

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Few roster cuts are truly shocking at this point in the NFL offseason. Fans are accustomed to seeing quality players hit the open market near the end of training camp, and with the 2020 cutdown deadline looming on September 5, more cuts are coming.

    However, the Jacksonville Jaguars' decision to release running back Leonard Fournette on Monday was a stunner.

    Fournette hasn't lived up to his draft status as the fourth overall pick in 2017, but he had one year left on his rookie deal and was coming off arguably the best season of his career. The LSU product amassed 1,152 rushing yards, 522 receiving yards, 76 receptions and three touchdowns in 2019.

    According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Jaguars tried for "months" to deal Fournette but found no takers. If he clears waivers, though, the interest is likely to build.

    Considering factors such as team need, scheme fit and cap space, the following six teams are his most realistic potential landing spots.

Miami Dolphins

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    Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa
    Dolphins QB Tua TagovailoaLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins will eventually hand their offense over to rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Until they do, however, the offense will likely be centered around journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the running game.

    Miami already acquired two veteran backs this offseasonJordan Howard and Matt Breida, to help lead the rushing attack. While adding Fournette to the mix might seem like overkill, it would make sense schematically.

    Head coach Brian Flores came from the New England Patriots, where utilizing multiple running backs is the norm. While Fournette has a reputation for being a bruising runner, he showed last season that he can be a reliable receiving outlet out of the backfield, too.

    That ability would fit with the power-running Howard and could help take some pressure off Tagovailoa whenever he does enter the starting lineup. With Breida as a third change-of-pace option, Miami could suddenly have one of the top backfields in the AFC.

    The Dolphins appear set to release running back Kalen Ballage after his trade to the New York Jets fell through because of a failed physical. Doing so would make room for Fournette in their backfield.

    While Fournette may not command a hefty sum on the open market, it wouldn't be an issue for the Dolphins, who have nearly $24 million in cap space remaining.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Eagles RB Miles Sanders
    Eagles RB Miles SandersChris Szagola/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Eagles seem to view running back Miles Sanders as an every-down option who doesn't need to come off the field often.

    "I'm excited about him handling the full load," running backs coach Duce Staley said, per Glenn Erby of Eagles Wire. "I don't see Miles as a guy you have to monitor his touches. ... I think you put him and you let him go."

    However, Philadelphia did kick the tires on veteran back Carlos Hyde earlier in the offseason and could revisit the idea of adding a veteran back now that Sanders is week-to-week with a lower-body injury. A source told ESPN's Tim McManus that he "will be ready to play" in Week 1, but there's a difference between that and being ready to handle 25-plus carries.

    With wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Jalen Reagor both injured, Philadelphia may look to go run-heavy early in the season. Adding Fournette could allow them to do just that.

    With more than $18 million in cap space, affording Fournette would not be an issue for the Eagles.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Steelers coach Mike  Tomlin
    Steelers coach Mike TomlinKeith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Armed with just over $4 million in cap space, the Pittsburgh Steelers are the most financially strapped team featured here. However, that shouldn't deter them from going after Fournette if he clears waivers and the price is right.

    Pittsburgh is betting big on the return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who missed all but two games last year with an elbow injury. But if Big Ben struggles to regain his Pro Bowl form, the Steelers could be in trouble.

    With Roethlisberger out for most of the 2019 season, Pittsburgh finished 30th in total offense and 27th in scoring. Starting running back James Conner—who looked like a future star in 2018—floundered without Big Ben under center, and the Steelers finished 29th in rushing.

    The Steelers have a championship-caliber defense that ranked fifth in both points and yards allowed last season. Their window with Roethlisberger won't remain open forever, and it makes sense to go all-in while they can.

    Adding Fournette to a team with a top-tier defense and offensive weapons like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and Vance McDonald would potentially push Pittsburgh into the upper echelon of the AFC.

Los Angeles Rams

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    Rams coach Sean McVay
    Rams coach Sean McVayMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Like the Steelers, the Los Angeles Rams have just over $4 million in cap space. Also like the Steelers, it might behoove them to take a long look at adding Fournette ahead of Week 1.

    The Rams are trying to replace Todd Gurley and improve a rushing attack that ranked 26th in yards and 27th in yards per attempt last season. Rookie second-round pick Cam Akers is promising, but 2019 third-round pick Darrell Henderson is dealing with a hamstring injury and could miss regular-season time.

    "We'll be hopeful that he'll end up being able to get back and it won't affect his availability for the Dallas game," head coach Sean McVay said, per Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.

    Longtime backup Malcolm Brown is also in the mix for L.A., but with only 769 career rushing yards and a career average of 3.9 yards per carry, he's an underwhelming third option.

    Adding Fournette wouldn't outright replace Gurley, and it wouldn't necessarily prevent Akers or Henderson from becoming the Rams' running back of the future. However, it would provide Los Angeles with a proven starter for a pivotal Week 1 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys.

Los Angeles Chargers

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Chargers parted with running back Melvin Gordon III this offseason. Though they retained fellow back Austin Ekeler, he doesn't view himself as an every-down option.

    "I've been splitting 50-50. And so, I'm expecting a little bit more of that this year as well with the other guys," Ekeler said, per Chris Hayre of the team's official website.

    The unknown is who will share that 50-50 split with Ekeler. Los Angeles has Justin Jackson and rookie Joshua Kelley. It doesn't have a proven starter and dual-threat back in the mold of Gordon—who had 908 yards from scrimmage in 12 games last season despite splitting time with Ekeler.

    Fournette could be the physical, between-the-tackles complement to Ekeler, much like Gordon was last year.

    He could be a smart addition for L.A., who may transition to more of a run-oriented offense with journeyman Tyrod Taylor and/or rookie Justin Herbert under center in 2020. The Chargers should have no problem affording him, as they have just over $13 million in cap space remaining.

Chicago Bears

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    Bears RB David Montgomery
    Bears RB David MontgomeryNam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    It might be best to view the Chicago Bears as a dark horse for Fournette, as they have a wonderful backfield duo in David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen. However, Montgomery is dealing with a groin injury and could miss time in the regular season.

    "Starting RB David Montgomery, who went down in practice yesterday with a groin injury, is expected to be out 2-4 weeks, source said," NFL Network's Ian Rapoport tweeted Thursday. "That gives him a chance of being out on the field for the opener vs. the Lions."

    Bringing in Fournette as early-season insurance would make sense, but that isn't the only reason why Chicago could be a sneaky destination. Bears quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo was Jacksonville's offensive coordinator last season when Fournette broke out as a pass-catcher.

    With the Bears facing plenty of uncertainty under center—and a camp competition between Mitchell Trubisky and former Jaguars signal-caller Nick Foles—bringing in a dual-threat back who could take pressure off the quarterback wouldn't be a bad idea.

    With more than $16 million in cap space remaining, Chicago should have no trouble signing Fournette from a financial perspective.


    Cap information via Spotrac.