The thick of the NFL offseason has already arrived which means free agency will soon begin in earnest. Teams cannot contact unrestricted free agents until March 15, exactly two days before the start of the 2021 league year. However, news regarding the top players will circulate before the free agency officially kicks off, and this year’s market could feature big-name talents like Dak Prescott, Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, and Kenny Golladay. The franchise tag will likely remove one or more from the open market, but more will reach free agency when the legal-tampering period opens.
2020 in review
Leonard Fournette’s 2020 season began with an unceremonial release from the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team that made him the No. 4 overall pick just four years earlier. Fournette resurfaced with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as part of a backfield rotation that also featured Ronald Jones II and a splash of third-round rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Fournette spent most of the campaign serving as Jones’ primary backup.
Fournette never seriously challenged Jones’ place atop the depth chart, but he did contribute meaningfully as a scoring threat. In roughly 100 fewer carries than Jones, Fournette reached the end zone nearly as many times, recording six touchdowns to his teammate’s eight. Fournette also went off in the playoffs, leading the team in carries (64), rushing yards (300), and touchdowns (four, including one as a receiver).
The market for Fournette’s services appeared fairly barren when the Jaguars cut him loose last year, and that might not have changed significantly despite his strong postseason run. Fournette’s minimal contributions as a pass catcher limit the number of teams that will pay his price.
That said, the New England Patriots have succeeded with backs like Fournette before, most recently winning titles with LeGarrette Blount. The Detroit Lions, who leaned on a similarly one-dimensional Adrian Peterson in 2020, could have interest in Fournette if they want a power back to pair with D’Andre Swift. Likewise, the Seattle Seahawks could look at Fournette if Chris Carson’s price exceeds their wallet.
Do the Buccaneers want to keep him?
Given that Tom Brady has one year left on his contract, the Buccaneers would like to maintain as much of their championship-winning roster as possible. Still, some players will have to cycle out, and the team already has Jones positioned as the lead back with Vaughn set to take on a larger role next season. Additionally, Tampa Bay has to carve out cap space for more important free agents such as wideout Chris Godwin, pass rusher Shaquil Barrett, and others. Fournette probably has better opportunities elsewhere.
If Fournette leaves Tampa, Jones and Vaughn would see their fantasy stock rise. Jones already finished as a mid- to low-end RB2 while Vaughn, if he demonstrates even a modicum of pass-catching ability, should become a weekly contributor in 2021. As for Fournette, he seems destined for another timeshare no matter how free agency unfolds.
The Seahawks have come up as a landing spot for Fournette. However, that interest appears entirely dependent on Carson leaving Seattle in free agency.