Leonard Fournette has been a big part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ success over the last two seasons. Yet, Tom Brady’s retirement signaled that the Bucs roster will look different in 2022, and the front office faces a difficult decision on the future of several key players, including Fournette who is a free agent.
Pro Football Focus has Fournette as the No. 2 ranked free agent running back with the playmaker projected to earn a two-year, $16 million contract. This may be too high of a price tag for the Bucs to pay given they are in the market for a new starting quarterback and will also look to re-sign a number of starters.
Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard outlined a few potential running back options for the Buccaneers if they opt to let Fournette walk in free agency. One intriguing player is Rams rusher Sony Michel who Ledyard labels his “favorite cheap option” for Tampa Bay.
“One of my favorite cheap options for the Bucs is running back Sony Michel,” Ledyard noted on February 26. “The former Patriot and Ram is fresh off winning a ring, and seems unlikely to return to Los Angeles. Michel is one of the top pass protecting backs in the NFL, and a solid rusher. He’s also operated efficiently behind basically every running scheme there is, thanks to his vision and technique. But he’s never developed into a quality receiving option. Pairing him with Bernard or a rookie receiving back will be key.”
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Michel Has Never Rushed for More Than 1,000 Yards
Given Michel’s status as the No. 31 pick in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, the running back’s career has not lived up to this status. Michel has yet to rush for more than 1,000 yards with either the Patriots or Rams. The running back had 208 rushes for 845 yards and four touchdowns last season. Michel also aded 21 receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown.
If you’re looking for optimism about Michel, the veteran rusher has consistently shared the backfield with other players, which has played a role in his modest numbers. Michel also bring with him the experience of being on two Super Bowl winning teams, both in New England and Los Angeles.
Arians on Fournette: ‘I Think He Has a Great Future’
Going from Fournette to Michel is admittedly a downgrade, but the Buccaneers would likely look to increase the workload for third-year running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn to help carry the load. Michel comes with a significantly cheaper price tag as Pro Football Focus projects the Rams running back to land a two-year, $8.5 million contract.
Like Fournette, Ronald Jones is also a free agent, meaning the Bucs have a lot of questions to address in the backfield this offseason. Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians has been a big supporter of Fournette and emphasized that the team wants to keep the star running back in Tampa.
“Watching him in practice, he was going to be back to Playoff Lenny,” Arians told the Buccaneers Radio Network during a January 24 interview, per JoeBucsFan.com. “He played a whale of a ballgame. …I think he has a great future. I hope it’s here.”