Running back Leonard Fournette decided on where he will play in 2021 on Friday after staying in limbo nearly the first two weeks of free agency.
Fournette will stay with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after agreeing to a one-year, $3.25 million contract per ESPN’s Jenna Laine. Incentives in the contract could make it $4 million.
Fellow Bucs free agent and workout partner Antonio Brown, who remains unsigned, dropped a hint last weekend that Fournette would come back. Brown said, “me and ‘Playoff Lenny’ gonna work this out” in a video with Bucs Tracker on Instagram.
It didn’t look promising on Monday for Fournette to stay in Tampa, however, as Joey Knight of the Tampa Bay Times reported that talks regarding the star running back “made no real headway” toward a new contract. Monday also brought another wrinkle to Fournette’s future as the New England Patriots, one of Fournette’s suitors, re-signed running back James White per NFL Network’s Adam Schefter.
Fournette’s strongest offer elsewhere reportedly came from the Seattle Seahawks, but the team re-signed running back Chris Carson last week. With Carson’s deal averaging at $5.212 per year, it continued a downward trend of running back contracts from Green Bay star Aaron Jones’ $12 million to White’s most recent $2.5 million deal with the Patriots according to Laine.
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From Waiver to Winning Super Bowl
Jacksonville, which drafted Fournette with the fourth pick in 2017, cut the former LSU star before the 2020 season began. He had two 1,000-yard seasons in Jacksonville, but the Jaguars passed on his fifth-year option in May 2020 before the September release according to Laine.
Tampa picked him up off waivers with a one-year contract at $2.5 million per Over The Cap. The Bucs notably had a full running back room at that point with Ronald Jones II, LeSean McCoy, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
Fournette didn’t become the feature back as he did in Jacksonville. He tallied career-lows in carries, 97, and yards, 367, but had six touchdowns. He notably had 36 receptions and 233 yards receiving out of the backfield.
Ronald Jones II had the feature back role with 978 yards and seven touchdowns on 192 carries. He also caught 28 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown. Notably, Jones had a couple of injuries with a broken pinky in December 2020 and then a quad injury in the playoffs.
Fournette’s performance elevated in the playoffs with 330 yards rushing and three touchdowns in addition to 148 yards receiving and a touchdown. He became known as “Playoff Lenny” and eventually “Lombardi Lenny” in the process.
Keeping the Band Together
With Fournette staying, the Bucs now have all 22 regular offensive starters back from the 2020 Super Bowl team. The Bucs franchise-tagged Chris Godwin on March 9 and then re-signed tight end Rob Gronkowski to a one-year deal for up to $10 million during free agency.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady helped the cause by signing an extension that frees up salary cap space. David and offensive tackle Donovan Smith also helped the cap with their extensions.