Jeff Howe reported that Bill Belichick reached out to former Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette Wednesday afternoon. Evan Lazar added that the Bills were another team in the mix. The Patriots could have had a serious interest or had been doing their due diligence, as they do with most free agents on the market. Albert Beer reported that the Buccaneers emerged as a “serious suitor” for Fournette later in the afternoon. The signing officially broke with a tweet from Ian Rapoport just before 9 PM. The former Jaguar inked a one-year deal for $2 million. He can earn an additional $1.5 million in incentives to join Tom Brady and his Super Team.
Fournette was released by the team who drafted him 4th overall in 2017 on Monday. Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were still on the board when the Jaguars made their pick. Fournette rushed for 2631 yards on 4.0 YPA and found the endzone 17 times in his three years with Jacksonville. He also had 134 receptions for 1009 yards and 2 TDs in the air. Fournette grew upset with the team’s decline since Tom Brady shattered their Super Bowl hopes with 25 sutures in his throwing thumb in the 2017 AFC Championship. The Jaguars went 5-11 in 2018 and 6-10 last year. Jacksonville has cut ties with their best players over the last two years and Fournette decided he also wanted out. The Jaguars declined Fournette’s fifth-year option in May and were unable to find a trade partner because the whole world knew the relationship was over.
The Patriots already have a deep running backs group, but Fournette could have arguably been the second-best back on the team. Unlike Sony Michel, Fournette is an in-between the tackles running back who can also be a factor in the passing game. The Patriots could have looked to trade Michel if they signed Fournette. Michel proved last year that he can only be efficient with a solid offensive line and running behind a traditional fullback. Fournette could have at least taken over Rex Burkhead’s role with more efficiency if Belichick wanted to hold onto Michel. James White can line up in the slot as a receiver, and the Patriots could have deployed both White and Fournette in certain passing situations. Damien Harris has been the best back in camp but suffered a hand injury and may not be available for the start of the season.
As much it will be exciting to see the changes made to the offense with Cam Newton under center, the Patriots will be a ground and pound team, at least to start. Without any preseason games and a fake training camp, the passing game will need 4-6 weeks to reach peak form. The Patriots typically use September as an extended preseason. This September will be a true preseason for everyone, especially their new quarterback who will need some time to get comfortable. The Patriots will have four running backs on the depth chart who will all get a piece of the workload each week while Cam settles in. With the Mohamed Sanu release coming out Wednesday evening, it will be difficult to have high expectations for the passing game in general, unless Bill gets on the phone and makes some calls around the league.
Fournette made the right choice by taking his talents across the state to Tampa Bay, joining a plethora of players on the tail-end of their career, or needing a career revival. Their offense has almost too much firepower in the air but can use some assistance in the running game. If Alvin Kamara and the Saints are unable to agree on a new contract and trade the All-Pro running back, the Buccaneers should be the favorite to win their division. It will be interesting to see if any reports break about the offer the Patriots made if any was on the table. There will certainly be an Arms Race this year between the two future Hall of Famers, and it looks like the Buccaneer may have won the first battle.