Leonard Fournette Released…Now What? (The Ramifications for Everything Involved and Where He Goes Next…that will disrupt that situation too)
UPDATE = Fournette is now in the waiver claim process...a team can claim him, and pay his salary ($4M) for a year. They might, but they also have to deal with Fournette's situation of looming free agency. He could be forced to play somewhere he doesn't want to, but those are the rules. He also might sail through waivers and be a true free agent. He could be claimed and traded?? Lot's of intrigue the next 24 hours.
*Instant reaction with as much info and thought as I could gather right after the news hit. I rushed this, so forgive typos/grammar, etc.
I think we’re going to get a lot of ‘shocks’ this week on what players get released, as teams purge payroll for a season with big revenue hits…and prepping for whatever cap reduction comes in 2021. Knowing all this, I was still shocked the Jags released Leonard Fournette now and not trading him during the NFL Draft or waiving him in June. They went through the entire preseason camp and then before the season started…they cut their only real RB. They have no other obvious planning they have done at RB to make this move…it’s riff raff and hopeful undrafted free agents as the RB plan for the Jags at the moment.
So many things to process here…from the impact to the team, Fournette’s next team (and their backfield), the Jags backfield, etc. We’ll hit every angle, look at the fantasy implications, and project all the possible landing spots (and the ripple effects from that).
First: The Jacksonville Ripple Effects…
-- Any thought of Jacksonville being a sleeper team with a nice little offense and many interesting young defenders…that’s dead. The Jags have completely gutted their team this season (Bouye, Campbell earlier) and especially in the last 24 hours (Fournette and Ngakoue gone).
The Jags are now contenders for the worst team in the NFL in 2020. It boosts the playoff odds for the fellow NFC South teams -- Houston, Indy, and Tennessee.
It also helps the Miami sleeper story for 2020 – the Jags play Miami Week 3. It also helps the Detroit sleeper story for 2020 – they play Jacksonville Week 6.
-- Doug Marrone is a walking dead man and Jay Gruden will be the next head coach of the Jags, unless Marrone pulls off a miracle.
-- Jacksonville is not going to try and win games or have the horses to do so…so this is going to be like a team really ‘tanking’, in a sense. They may be in some fiscal trouble, or they’re smart enough to realize and strong enough to act on the fact that even with Ngakoue and Fournette they were in trouble in 2020 so instead of finishing with 4-5-6 wins, just tank to 2-3 wins and better position from draft picks (that they’ll butcher).
If the Jags have any hope in 2020, it will be what like Brian Flores did – gut/purge the roster, get killed in games for a while, then the young players start to get their sea legs and are scrappy/competitive in the 2nd-half. The teams playing Jacksonville Weeks 1-6 just got a gift handed to them.
SECOND: Jags Ripple Effects for Fantasy…
-- This hurts Gardner Minshew in one sense…he just lost the ‘cover’ of his opponent’s over-focusing on the run game. It helps in another sense – this is clearly Minshew’s team and he’s going to have to throw a lot on a losing team.
I lean that this is more ‘better’ for Minshew for FF than not…and that it boosts D.J. Chark another notch as well as other receivers…Shenault, Conley, whomever you think will see targets.
-- If the Jags’ offense will be in some disarray early on, then a particular DST we like for 2020 based on early schedule + talent, just got a boost – Indy-DST is at Jacksonville Week 1. Our sleeper Miami-DST gets them Week 3.
-- The backfield race/winners for the Jags…
1) Chris Thompson becomes the PPR back on a team that will be down and out and throwing a bunch early in the season, in theory. Jay Gruden’s boy wins the day a la J.D. McKissic thought processes.
2) The running back who is not there yet. Mr. TBD.
The Jags will pick up an NFL cast-off this week and that RB will shake up the whole backfield. Everyone is going to rush into Armstead-Ozigbo, and then the Jags will sign some veteran/decent back, and everyone will drop all those guys.
Who will it be? No clue. More shocking cuts to come, I guess.
It will be someone cheap, so not Le’Veon Bell, etc.
3) Ryquell Armstead may get the first shot because of ‘draft stock’, but he likely won’t be great for fantasy (he’s not super talented, but not a total bust). Do you want the split role (with Thompson) power back in this offense?
4) Devine Ozigbo seems to be more beloved by the Jags than Armstead, but he has all the same issues as Armstead.
5) James Robinson is a Dynasty Rookie Draft guy we’ll be moving up the ranking list. I think Robinson has them thinking they have an eventual, sneaky starting NFL power back in their midst for no cost/undrafted. He tore up their scrimmage the other night. I like the gamble on Robinson over Armstead or Ozigbo, but that doesn’t mean the Jags will really go there right away. It’s more of a deep dynasty investment. And more of a pipedream that a rookie goes from undrafted to main back for an NFL team.
For the cost…it’s worth a deep dynasty look.
THIRD: The Fantasy RB Market Just Got Shook…
We’ve been preaching a mad dash for running backs because the market runs out/dry so fast of guys you can count on. Well, we thought we could count on Fournette as ‘the guy’…now, he’s gone to an unknown future.
The leftover Jags RBs are muddled and split/rotational roles…so, we lose Fournette from the ‘obvious’ RB options for FF and don’t back-fill with any obvious RB options. The thin RB market…just got thinner.
Fournette doesn’t have many places to go totally clean/to be ‘the guy’ (we’ll look at this in a moment)…if he goes to join an established backfield, then Fournette isn’t that obvious RB1 and he hurts the established RB (like if he goes to Philly) and takes another RB1 hopeful down with him.
If Fournette got unceremoniously dumped…then Le’Veon Bell could be next for similar reasoning OR the Jets add Fournette and move on from Bell, which is more RB chaos thrown into the mix.
IN Fantasy redrafts right now, with the Fournette news…
Premium RB value…just went higher for 2020.
General RB value…just went higher for 2020.
Sleeper RB value…just went higher for 2020.
FOURTH: Where is Fournette Going to Land?
As I mentioned…there’s not a lot of places where Fournette can just roll into and become ‘the guy’ right now, on short notice. Also, Fournette is getting paid a full year salary now by JAX…to not play football. Fournette is almost a free agent now instead of 2021. Fournette is in no real financial rush to join a team…he can take his time and try to work out a legit free agent signed deal.
Fournette can get claimed off waivers and paid for 2020, but he might fly through and become a true free agent.
You’re not going to want to hear this if you’ve already drafted Fournette in fantasy, but there’s a good chance he doesn’t play this year now…or at least Weeks 1-2-3. Some team would have to step up/step in and pay him nicely to sign/play…and then he’s lost some motivation for showing off for free agency in 2021.
Some team will have to pay Fournette $5M+ for a year to get him to play for them this season on a short-term commitment, but more likely he will hold out/wait for a larger, more secure deal. He has made a lot of money already in the NFL, so he has no reason to take a bad deal now and risk a big deal later.
Brace yourself for going from pure Fournette excitement/a bargain for 2020…to disappointment because he doesn’t play some/all season. Start thinking of him as tearing his ACL today, in a sense. If he doesn’t sign anywhere in a hurry/this week…we could be in for trouble with Fournette playing in 2020.
Jacksonville holding him to (essentially) September and cutting him vs. doing it in June was a kick in the gut to his ability to negotiate/find a new home.
Here’s my top scenarios for him now (in order of my most likely to happen)…
1) He doesn’t play in 2020. He just takes the year off and enters natural free agency in 2021 as a ‘fresh’ back/asset.
He waits for the RB injuries to pop Weeks 1-2-3 and then signs with a team under pressure for a running back.
2) The Bucs
TB could drop LeSean McCoy and add Fournette to be a franchise back with Tom Brady and friends, and bump Ronald Jones to a nice backup. Fournette is an Arians type back.
The Bucs would have to do some fancy CAP maneuvers to make it happen.
If the Bucs are ‘all in’ on a 2020 season Super Bowl or bust with Brady on borrowed time…this is an ‘all in’ RB moment, and Fournette might take less to be a part of it.
If this happens...it’s an upgrade from Jacksonville’s situation for Fournette.
3) The Chargers
Anthony Lynn has to be drooling. This is his kinda guy to pair with Austin Ekeler.
This would be a great spot for Fournette with some PPR loss. This is Anthony Lynn’s dream RB...he wouldn’t let it go to waste.
4) The Steelers
James Conner isn’t long for the Steelers’ world. Fournette is a Mike Tomlin kinda guy, and he’s seen Fournette abuse his defenses in the past.
This would be excellent for Fournette.
5) The Jets
The Jets cut Le’Veon Bell and sign Fournette to a three-year deal. Then Le’Veon is in the open market, and we’d have to handicap that if/when it happens.
Then would Le’Veon go back to Pittsburgh?
The Jets have the money…do they want to spend it this way? They have a backfield falling apart…and they believe they have a chance in 2020.
This would be promising but worrisome for Fournette going to another bad franchise.
6) The Redskins
They have no franchise RB…they could get one easy here. Not sure they want to take on the money with a team going nowhere in 2020.
This would be promising but worrisome for Fournette going to another bad franchise.
7) The Eagles
Doug Pederson wants to add a hammer to go with Miles Sanders and has been rumored to be after Fournette in the past. Now there is an open chance to do it, but doubtful Fournette would choose an RBBC to go to with any other options on the table.
8) The Bears
If they fear the David Montgomery injury is worse/lingering than expected. The Jags’ O-C from 2019 is in Chicago now.
9) The Seahawks
If they fear Chris Carson will never be an NFL starter talent again.
10) The Rams
If they want to try and make a push to compete with Seattle/San Fran…taking pressure off young RBs to try and carry the day.
My FF projections will be updated today to account for all the ramifications of this. Obviously, Leonard Fournette is not the main 3rd-round redraft plan anymore.