Free agency started off with a bang as multiple teams let veterans on big contracts walk before their next payday.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers began the process of their own post-Brady era house-cleaning by releasing Fournette along with Pro-Bowler LT Donovan Smith and TE Cameron Brate.
Fournette signed a three year, $21M contract with Tampa Bay just one year ago. The Bucs will incur a $5M dead cap hit for cutting the running back who will look to join his third team in seven seasons. Fournette is certainly more of a cap casualty than a talent liability; he led the team in rushing attempts, yards, and was even the team’s third leading pass catcher.
The #Bucs plan to release RB Leonard Fournette when the new league year begins March 15, per sources.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) February 28, 2023
GM Jason Licht mentioned recently that he felt Fournette was still a three-down back in this league. “Lombardi Lenny” is still only 28 and has plenty in the tank. pic.twitter.com/KMHiGSfG9L
2022 was a productive yet inefficient season for the running back. He was far and away their RB1 this past season; he garnered 668 yards and three touchdowns in 2022, along with 73 receptions for another 523 yards and three scores. However, his 3.5 yards per carry was the second-lowest average of his career. He also posted only three rushing touchdowns, tied for the lowest in his six seasons
With over $40M in available salary cap, Houston makes a perfect landing spot for the running back. His return to the AFC South would present the opportunity to play against his former team the Jacksonville Jaguars twice a year.
The former Jaguar turned Buccaneer is exactly the type of veteran running back to help support Dameon Pierce the next two seasons. Fournette has developed into a quality pass catcher recently, something Pierce showed signs of but could greatly improve on. Fournette racked up 69 and 73 receptions the past two seasons. His best two seasons have come when he’s the workhorse back, but heading into the twilight of his career passing that baton off to Pierce and being more of a rotational running back bodes well for his longevity in the league.
The Houston Texans running back room is rather scarce; Dare Ogunbowale and Royce Freeman are the only other two backs outside of Pierce. The lack of a veteran presence and a viable second option to run the ball doesn’t bode well for a team that will be undergoing another transformation year on offense. While a mid-late round running back pick seems plausible, adding a three-down back such as Fournette will stabilize the position.
The promise of a knowledgeable running back is that he will help develop our young star running back but also be a tonic for whichever QB the Texans draft in April. Fournette may not be familiar with the Houston Texans new coaching staff, but he presents a fantastic fit to a team looking to add impact players on offense before the season starts.