Tampa Bay's Super Bowl-winning running back, Leonard Fournette, is on the brink of free agency.
Despite his heroics in the Super Bowl, the 2020 season was not exactly a bed of roses for Fournette. The former Jaguar left Jacksonville for Tampa Bay during the 2020 offseason, and he got off to a pretty decent start in a Bucs' uniform, running riot against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2, registering 103 yards and 2 TDs.
Fournette's success was to be short-lived, as he saw his snaps decrease exponentially with coach Bruce Arians preferring Ronald Jones ll in the backfield. The game against the Panthers was in fact Fournette's high point of the regular season as injury, competition, and loss of form ensured that the former first-round pick out of LSU never again posted a 100+ yard game in 2020. In fact, he struggled to even break 50 yards in game, a far cry from his 1,152-yard season for the Jaguars in 2019.
Then came the playoffs. With Ronald Jones ll battling injury, Fournette seized his chance, stepping back into the limelight alongside Tom Brady. The bruising running back posted 132 yards from scrimmage and a TD against the Washington Football Team in the wildcard round, 107 yards from scrimmage and a TD against the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional round and 74-yards from scrimmage and a TD against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game.
He then broke Kansas City's hearts when he registered 135 yards from scrimmage and a TD in the Super Bowl. Fournette's powerful, aggressive running was a key component of Tampa's wild success in the playoffs.
During the postseason, Fournette proved what a great player he can be when he has the confidence of his coach and team. It's doubtful Bruce Arians will want to see Fournette leave the Buccaneers so soon after helping them deliver the franchise's second-ever Lombardi trophy, but sometimes coaches don't get what they want, so on that note, let's take a look at the 3 best landing spots for Leonard Fournette via free agency.
In descending order:
3. Leonard Fournette to the New England Patriots
Going from a team that just won the Super Bowl to a team that finished third in a relatively weak AFC East might not seem like the greatest of ideas to some, but hear me out...
The Patriots didn't have their best year in 2020. Not only did Bill Belichick have to wildly overhaul his entire offense to help negate Brady's departure and Newton's arrival, switching from a pass-first to a run-first offense, he had to do it with no preseason games, numerous players on the COVID reserve list, and without any genuine tier one (maybe even tier two!) running backs or wideouts.
Despite these challenges, the Patriots managed to finish 7-9 on the year. New England just needs to add some razzle-dazzle to the backfield in time for the 2021 NFL season. Belichick needs a new quarterback, wideout, and running back, and that's where Fournette comes in.
Rex Burkhead and James White were the lead pair of backs last year and both players' honest, hard-working, dependable runners, with good hands, but neither with the talent required to scorch the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl like Fournette. And unlike the bruising back, neither can be considered a tier-one running back and the Patriots need to upgrade the position, immediately.
Fournette could be a part of that exciting offensive overhaul. He's a Super Bowl champion more than capable of posting 1,500 yards from scrimmage if he's fed the ball. Fournette to the Pats makes perfect sense to me.
2. Leonard Fournette to the Kansas City Chiefs
Andy Reid attempted to rectify one of the very few weaknesses in the Chiefs' armor last season - the lack of a power runner - by bringing in Le'Veon Bell from the New York Jets.
In an ill-fated switch for the former Pittsburgh Steelers star, Bell struggled for snaps and yards right through the regular season and was practically ousted from Andy Reid's team in the playoffs. Something clearly wasn't right with that relationship, and, as a result, Bell is another star running back likely to make his way into free agency during the offseason.
Bell's failure does not negate the Chiefs' need for a power running back. Kansas City has a superstar-in-the-making in Clyde Edwards-Helaire who enjoyed a promising rookie year (803 yards rushing) but the kid needs support. Someone to form a one-two punch with, much like Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara in New Orleans or Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in Cleveland.
Fournette to the Chiefs makes a lot of sense for both parties, in my opinion.
1. Leonard Fournette to the Pittsburgh Steelers
After a 11-0 start to the season, things quickly capitulated for the Pittsburgh Steelers towards the back end of 2020.
The Steelers defense is undoubtedly one of the best in the NFL. Head coach Mike Tomlin will hope to re-sign Bud Dupree to the roster during the offseason to ensure the pass rush unit continues to dominate, but even if he doesn't, the Steelers defense will likely continue to dominate without him.
The defense wasn't an issue last season, not when everyone was fit. The Steelers' problem was that teams stuffed the run game against them, limiting Tomlin's team to just 3.6 yards per carry, a league-low.
James Conner is a decent dual-threat back but injuries continue to disrupt his progress. Conner is also out of contract during the offseason, and a new deal is far from certain. Benny Snell Jr. ran hard and showed glimpses of promise last season but wasn't productive enough, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.
For coach Tomlin, Leonard Fournette would be a much better option than either of the aforementioned running backs. Fournette represents what it means to be an RB1 in the Steel City. He's in the mold of Steelers great Jerome Bettis: a crash-bang, physical runner; the kind of player that the Pittsburgh faithful would just love.
Fournette may have got off to a slow start in Tampa last year, but his high-yielding performances in the playoffs show he has a lot to offer to the Steelers' offense.
At just 26-years of age, Fournette provides plenty of upside, and I'd be surprised if coach Tomlin wasn't at least taking him under consideration.