Column: Is Leonard Fournette worth signing?

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On Monday, the Jacksonville Jaguars announced they released running back Leonard Fournette after three years. As the former No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, Fournette was the first running back taken in what would turn out to be one of the best draft classes for the position in recent memory, maybe ever. 

The draft class included the likes of Christian McCaffery, Alvin Kamara, Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook, James Conner, Aaron Jones, Chris Carson and Kareem Hunt, all of whom have gone on to find a ton of success in the NFL. Even some of the guys who aren’t necessarily considered feature backs have had some level of success like Marlon Mack, Tarik Cohen and Jamaal Williams. 

Yet, the first running back picked out of that outstanding class was released before his rookie deal was even up. 

Not only that, but apparently, no other team around the league wanted to give up any assets whatsoever to bring him in, as Adam Schefter of ESPN quoted from head coach Doug Marrone.  

“We couldn’t get anything, a fifth, a sixth, anything,” Marrone said. “We couldn’t get anything.” 

A blunt statement like that raises the question, why does no one want Leonard Fournette?  

Even though nothing he did jumped off the page last season, his 1,674 scrimmage yards were still No. 6 in the NFL and No. 5 for running backs, only behind McCaffery, Ezekiel Elliott, Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry and Michael Thomas. The issue was he just couldn’t score, getting into the endzone just three times all season. Some of this can be attributed to the ineptitude of the Jaguars offense, scoring the seventh-least points per game in the league. However, with 341 total touches, only scoring three touchdowns is almost unfathomable. 

Even with the sixth-most total yards from scrimmage in the league, he was just running back No. 26 in terms of yards per rush attempt, and while 4.3 yards per rush isn’t inherently bad, there’s nothing special about it either. 

Even so, why did no other team want to trade for him? It was most likely money-related, as being a former No. 4 overall pick does carry a sizeable price tag. Fournette would have carried a cap hit of over $8 million this upcoming season, so teams might not want to take on that extra salary, especially if he wouldn’t be in a role large enough to warrant that price tag. Now that he’s been cut, teams can probably get him for less. 

It also makes sense for the Jaguars to cut him. They’re clearly going into full rebuild mode and Fournette was just not a part of their future plans, so there’s no use in keeping him around and continuing to pay him. 

But I still wonder if Fournette’s history of off-the-field issues had anything to do with the lack of interest in a trade. 

Marrone was quoted in an article on the Jaguars’ team website that the move “strictly has to do on the field,” but the article did note his missing of a game in 2017 due to disciplinary reasons and in 2018 due to a suspension. 

There have been multiple other incidents that didn’t get him disciplined but still paint him in a bad light. 

In 2018, he was caught on video yelling at and maybe even threatening a fan during a game. 

[embed:https://twitter.com/ronniemartinGBO/status/1071148606281912321]

Fournette ready to fight Titans fan beside us at last nights game. @1045TheZone @3HL1045 @Midday180 @Titans @ClayTravis

Originally tweeted by Ronnie Martin (@ronniemartinGBO) on December 7, 2018.

In 2019, he was arrested for knowingly driving with a suspended license after being pulled over for speeding, per CBS Sports

Also, last season he was caught on camera needing to be held back from a teammate after the Jaguars won on a field goal. 

While he was likely cut because no one wanted to trade for his contract, the fact that at the time of writing, the player with the sixth-most yards from scrimmage last season has gone unsigned for two days makes it seem like no one wants to bring in an inconsistent running back with a myriad of off-field issues. 

So is it worth signing him? 

If you’re a contender with a big hole at running back, then maybe. But at this point, most teams have their starting running back spots set. If you’re not a contender, then why bring in someone with a messy past? What’s in it for you besides negative headlines? 

The only way I see him getting signed is if a contender loses their starting running back to an injury, or if a team like the Saints have their starting running back Alvin Kamara hold out for contract reasons. 

Fournette isn’t a player you bring in to be a backup. It’s not worth it at that point. He’s someone a team will bring in when they’re desperate for someone to eat up carries during a playoff push. 

Other than that, don’t bother. 

Thumbnail courtesy of @_fournette on Twitter 09/02/20 8:58 pm.

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