The Jaguars had a busy Friday. Head coach Doug Marrone joined Good Morning Football on NFL Network. He made a firm commitment to Gardner Minshew, saying, “He’s our guy, no doubt about it.” But Marrone also talked about wanting to add a veteran QB presence to the room — hello Andy Dalton, who was released by the Bengals just yesterday.
Later on Friday, the Jaguars made some critical decisions regarding their running back room. First, they signed veteran running back Chris Thompson. They then decided not to pick up Leonard Fournette’s fifth-year option.
What does it all mean? I’m glad you asked!
These two roster moves, while they had little to do with each other, did come around the same time and at the same position. But signing Chris Thompson didn’t lead the Jaguars’ brass to decline Fournette’s option.
Thompson will not be a feature back for the Jaguars. He’s got too long an injury history to rely on him for that type of work. But at 29-years old, he is a steady pass-catching presence out of the backfield — one who’s spent nearly his entire seven-year career in Jay Gruden’s offense. Thompson has 212 career catches and 250 rushes. The Jaguars will hand him the ball from time to time, but he’ll be most effective as a receiver. Thompson hasn’t suited up for an entire season since 2016, which is, in fact, the only season he’s ever completed without missing a game. But Thompson has played in at least ten games for each of the past three campaigns. So he should be an effective weapon for the Jaguars for much of the 2020 season. But a Leonard Fournette replacement, he is not.
Now that the Jaguars have officially elected not to pick up Fournette’s fifth-year option, he’s entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2020. Despite the Jaguars attempting to trade him before and during the draft, it now appears likely that Fournette will play out the last season of his contract with the Jaguars. He’ll make just over $4.1 million in 2020. Rumors of the coaching staff wanting to be rid of Fournette, who was the fourth overall pick in 2017, have swirled in recent weeks. But Fournette is an effective starting running back and needing to prove his worth to potential suitors after the season, he could be in line for a monster year. Releasing him with no clear plan of succession at the position wouldn’t be wise. The Jags should, and likely will, ride their feature back one last time, before they let him find a new home during the 2021 offseason. If the Jaguars do let Fournette test free agency after the 2020 season, they’ll likely need to spend a day two or early day three pick to add another runner that has feature back potential. Having RyQuell Armstead, Chris Thompson, and Devine Ogzigbo in the fold will help the transition away from Fournette, but none of those guys screams, “I’m your next feature back!”
For 2020, the Jaguars have a fine stable of backs and should be able to rely on them to help get Gardner Minshew and the rest of the Jaguars’ offense where they want to go.
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