The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will kick off the 2023 season with a different starting backfield following the retirement of quarterback Tom Brady. On Friday, the team officially released veteran running back Leonard Fournette.
Fournette said THE Tampa Bay Weather Tuesday that he “asked after the season to be (released) and they respected my wishes. So no bad blood.”
The 28-year-old rusher re-signed with Tampa Bay to a three-year, $21 million deal last offseason after playing for the team on one-year contracts in 2020 and 2021. The release was partially motivated by the salary cap as he had $2 million remaining in fully guaranteed money on his contract as well as a $2 million bonus on March 19. Now, the Buccaneers can redistribute his hit cap across multiple seasons to ease the burden.
The fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Fournette joined the Buccaneers just before the start of the 2020 season after an exit, and he was an integral part of their Super Bowl LV championship team as he totaled four touchdowns during their playoffs. run – three rush and one receive. In 2021, Fournette was one of only four players with over 800 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards, joining New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara, Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler and running back Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris.
However, Fournette’s 2022 season has seen a difficult start when he showed up overweight at team OTAs and the mandatory minicamp last offseason. He averaged 3.5 yards per carry in 2022, the lowest of his career with the Buccaneers and the second-lowest number in the entire NFL that season among qualified rushers, ahead of the lone running back in the New York JetsMichael Carter. His dual-threat abilities as a rusher and receiver always shined through, however, as he was just one of three players in the entire league last season with over 650 rushing yards (668) and over 500 receiving yards (523) with San Francisco 49ers running backs Christian McCaffrey and Ekeler.
Now Fournette is one of many options teams can grab in order to fill their race halls for 2023. Below, check out some of the intriguing landing spots that could be available to the veteran now that he is on the open market.
The Buffalo Bills need to eliminate some of Josh Allen’s hasty attempts at his long-term health. His 124 carries in 2022 were more than Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt and the third-most of any quarterback, behind only the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts (165) and the Bears’ Justin Fields. Allen was productive as his 5,045 total yards and 42 total touchdowns were both second in the league behind MVP Patrick Mahomes. However, one symptom of Allen doing it all was that he led the NFL with 19 turnovers, a stat a quarterback never wants to be associated with.
The Bills tried to find solutions in the backfield between Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Nyheim Hines and James Cook. None have stood out in a major way so far. Fournette could provide a dual-purpose fullback that Allen could lean on both near the goal line and in the passing game.
Samaje Perine, the Cincinnati Bengals’ reliable second running back and solid pass blocker, is gone, after signing a two-year, $7.5 million contract with the Denver Broncos. Fournette could be a perfect replacement. He thrived during the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl run in 2020, so the bright lights wouldn’t phase him if Cincy left again in 2023. He would be a reliable blocker and a punishing option in the Bengals’ backfield.
Featuring NFL scrimmage touchdown leader Austin Ekeler looking for a business after expressing frustration over his contract situation, Fournette could be a low-budget replacement for him alongside Justin Herbert. He brings a similar skill set to Ekeler in a broader set, which could benefit the Chargers in the red zone where they ranked 17th in red-zone touchdown percentage (54.1%) in 2022.
With Cam Akers set to enter the final season of his rookie contract, Fournette could be a good fit with Malcolm Brown in the market. Even though the Rams are looking to lose blows with the release of Bobby Wagner and reported interest in negotiating Jalen Ramsey’s contract, Los Angeles may be able to get Fournette on a number below expectations given the saturation. running backs in free agency. He could be the thunderbolt of Akers as head coach Sean McVay could opt for a more heavy-handed approach in 2023 given quarterback Matthew Stafford’s injuries in 2022.