As the Jaguars began to unload veteran talent before the draft, the narrative still pressed on: Win now. But with a 6th-round quarterback coming back after a promising rookie year, depleting the defensive side of the ball of its biggest stars seemed to lend credence to the idea that the Jaguars were actually going in the opposite direction. An already struggling defense needed to get better to support Minshew. So the team focused on defense heavily in the draft, but in the days leading up into the draft, rumors began swirling that running back Leonard Fournette could be the next player shipped out of town. I believe the Jaguars were testing the waters and seeing what they could potentially do to move a player on the last year of his deal, and replacing him with a younger and cheaper option. I can't imagine any team in the NFL would have invested much in the way of future capital on the running back. Things never came to fruition, and the former 4th overall pick is still on the Jaguars roster heading into the season. After the draft, the Jaguars took another step away from Fournette by refusing his fifth-year option, which would have kept him in Jacksonville through 2021. Now, heading into the final season of his rookie deal, does Fournette have a future in Jacksonville?
I think there are a few possible outcomes in this situation. The first involves moving Fournette before the regular season starts. Now that the initial wave of free agency and the draft is over, teams looking for backfield help have mostly filled their needs. If a team suffers an unexpected injury during training camp (if there is one) or the preseason, we could see him shipped out before week one. This is the only scenario in which I see Fournette being moved during the season, although I find it highly unlikely. Running backs don't have near the value they once did in the league, and many teams are looking to more backfields by committee. There's only a handful of running backs in the NFL today who are worthy of big money. A midseason injury would not push a team to give up draft capital for a rental running back, and if it did, I don't think Leonard Fournette would be one of the options.
The next scenario plays out in two ways, and both involve Fournette on this year's roster. After the trade rumors, Fournette didn't go to social media to air out his feelings; rather, he handled it all very well compared to what we have seen from recent disgruntled Jaguars' players. In a podcast interview with Pro Football Talk, general manager Dave Caldwell insisted the Jaguars were comfortable moving forward with the running back. They have any other choice, to be honest. The offense is shifting away from the power running scheme Fournette thrives in, but he is still going to have to be there to give some relief to Gardner Minshew. The second-year QB isn't ready to carry the offense on his own — and may ever be the type of QB that can — but I do Minshew can win with the right weapons around him. Fournette gives the team a better chance to evaluate Minshew this year. This season's primary goal is to see what you really have with that guy as the future of your franchise, so taking weapons away doesn't help. This team needs a steady rushing attack to be efficient on offense.
So what does that mean for Fournette's future? Well, it all comes down to his performance this year. He could have a decent year, with serviceable numbers, and not demand such a large price tag in free agency. If Fournette plays well and is cheap, I think the Jaguars should look into extending him for one or two years, and drafting a back in 2021. Getting a back for the future with Fournette still on the roster gives you a second weapon in the backfield, as well as allowing you not to burn out fresh legs. The Jags had a great one-two punch with an aging Fred Taylor and a young Maurice Jones-Drew. Fournette is no Fred Taylor, but allowing him to split reps could improve his effectiveness as well. The alternative is Fournette has a huge year, as he knows he is playing for his next contract. That would be ideal for the Jags, but would ultimately lead to a price tag too high for the team. If that's the case, he moves on (hopefully), as running backs aren't worth their second contract anymore. The Jags will still be looking to draft a new rushing presence in 2021, one that fits Jay Gruden's scheme a little more (assuming he doesn't get canned after one season). The Bottom line is Fournette is most likely to remain in Duval for the 2020 season. But will it be his last? Only time will tell.
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