The last two seasons in Jacksonville have been marred by controversies inside and outside the Jaguars' locker room. From Tom Coughlin's inability to follow the rules outlined by the CBA, thus creating a toxic locker room environment, to Telvin Smith's abrupt retirement and eventual arrest, to Jalen Ramsey going AWOL and faking a back injury in an attempt to get traded, to Yannick Ngakoue declaring he wants out of Duval, and everything in between, the Big Cats have been Big Drama ever since they fell to the Patriots in the 2017 AFC title game.
The latest development? Trade talks surrounding former fourth overall pick, running back Leonard Fournette. Reports of trade discussions surfaced in the days leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft and then continued throughout the draft. But no deal was struck. The Jaguars decided not to add a running back in the draft, and then late last week declined Leonard Fournette's fifth-year option. The bruising back will be a free agent following the 2020 season.
Yesterday, this story took another turn. Dave Caldwell joined Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk and had this to say about the Leonard Fournette situation: "There were just some minor discussions with that but nothing substantial throughout the draft or prior to the draft. I think the mindset is that we're going to go forward with Leonard on the team. I had a good talk with him on Friday. I know Coach Marrone has had some discussion with him. He seems to be in great shape and mental frame of mind, and we feel that he'll have a great season this year."
So, just weeks after trying to trade a former top-five pick, and deciding not to pick up his fifth-year option, the Jaguars are now ready to move forward with him as their starting running back in 2020.
Odd? Actually, no.
This is the proper course of action at this point. Even though the Jaguars currently don't have any interest in signing Fournette to a long term deal, keeping him around for one more season is their only smart play at this point. Because they didn't draft a running back, and don't have much experience behind Fournette on the depth chart, rolling with him in 2020 makes too much sense. He's still a very productive player. Just a season ago, LF27 racked up the sixth-most yards from scrimmage in the NFL. Not too shabby. Feeding Fournette again in 2020, in a season in which he'll be motivated to earn a new contract elsewhere, should be a recipe for offensive success in Duval. What's more valuable for a regime that needs to be much more competitive in 2020? Another season of strong production from Fournette, or a 2021 late-round pick?
And this isn't likely to turn into a Jalen Ramsey or Yannick Ngakoue type situation. After learning about the trade talks, Fournette had this to say via his Twitter: "I don't know what the future holds but I promise that every day I'm gonna bust my ass. I know it's a business and I'll be ready at my best for the next season." And the fact that there has been communication between Fournette and the team, as Dave Caldwell told PFT, is another positive sign.
Why not keep him around beyond 2020? He's a headache in the locker room, and many coaches would be happy to be rid of him, according to Mark Long of the AP. And while Fournette is the type of back that can be leaned on heavily, a franchise-changing back he is not. Fournette misses holes with regularity and doesn't seem to have the natural vision that the best backs possess. His breakaway speed appears to have left him, as he was caught from behind on several occasions in 2019. He did suit up for 15 games for the Jaguars last year, but healthy seasons for the former phenom from Louisiana have been few and far between since he stepped foot on LSU's campus back in 2014. Should Leonard struggles with injuries in 2020, you're not losing much in terms of the salary cap by keeping him around for one more year. Fournette is a talented back and definitely deserves to be a starter somewhere, it's just unlikely to be in Jacksonville long term. Is it possible that Fournette has a monster season, stays inline within the locker room, and the Jaguars — who will have mountains of cap space after the 2020 season — reward him with a shiny new contract? Yes. But after failing to live up to the unrealistic expectations placed on him, and souring his relationship with some coaches inside the Jaguars' locker room, it's more likely that Fournette will cash in elsewhere.
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