Leonard Fournette’s next NFL team? Patriots, Buccaneers could be sensible fits for ex-Jaguars RB

Apparently, nobody wants Leonard Fournette.

It won't take long to find out how true that actually is after the Jacksonville Jaguars waived the former LSU All-American running back, who was drafted fourth overall just three years ago, on Monday morning.

"At the end of the day, I just felt that was the best decision for us as a team," Jags coach Doug Marrone said following the divorce from Fournette, who rushed for a career-best 1,152 yards last season while also establishing personal bests with 76 catches for another 522 yards.

Despite that, there was evidently no market for his services at his current pay rate.

"We exhausted all trade opportunities," said Marrone. "We weren't able to get anything there. … My question was, 'Can we get any value?' And we couldn't get any. Fifth- (round pick), sixth, we couldn't get anything."

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (27) runs the ball during the third quarter against the New York Jets at TIAA Bank Field. (Photo: Douglas DeFelice, USA TODAY Sports)

Fournette had semi-regular clashes with Jacksoville's upper management, which included a one-game suspension for a 2018 fight with Buffalo's Shaq Lawson. He'd also expressed frustration as the Jaguars, who nearly defeated the Patriots in the 2017 AFC Championship Game, continued to hemorrhage talent – including this past weekend's trade of pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue. Though the timing of Fournette's departure is head-scratching – especially given the opportunity the Jags would have had to further showcase him ahead of the trade deadline – Marrone insisted Monday that the decision "strictly has to do with on the field."

Fournette now heads to the waiver wire, where a team could claim his contract. Jacksonville had previously declined his fifth-year option, meaning he was set to make nearly $4.2 million in 2020 before reaching free agency in 2021. If he clears waivers, any team could sign him to a long-term deal immediately.

Who might be interested, at his current price or another one?

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pretty tempting marriage given QB Tom Brady and the new-look Bucs look relatively stacked everywhere, the backfield being an exception. Even if he's just a two-down back, Fournette projects as a better option than recently signed LeSean McCoy, 32, or unproven youngsters like Ronald Jones or rookie Ke'Shawn Vaughn. But one significant issue to overcome here: Tampa currently has the second-tightest 2020 salary cap, roughly $2.2 million, according to overthecap.com.

2. New England Patriots

Brady is gone, but this team still features the relatively underwhelming group of offensive skill players now tasked with supporting Cam Newton. The Pats have already taken a flier on veteran RB Lamar Miller, who's coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, while hoping Sony Michel is completely recovered from foot surgery in June. But coupling Newton and Fournette might provide a shot in the arm to a team likely to need firepower after its top-ranked defense was stripped by free agency and COVID-19 opt-outs.

3. Kansas City Chiefs

Super Bowl hero Damien Williams' decision not to play amid the pandemic means the champs are likely to lean very heavily on first-rounder Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Why ask so much of a rookie when you can provide a showcase opportunity for a player like Fournette, who's still in his prime? Remember, the Chiefs brought McCoy in at the 11th hour last summer.

4. Atlanta Falcons

If you're trying to keep up with the Saints and Bucs in the NFC South, you better be willing to up the ante in this arms (legs?) race. The addition of Rams castoff Todd Gurley means the Falcons could start 11 first-rounders in their three-wide offense. Fournette would provide more Round 1 pedigree while allowing this club to effectively manage snaps for Gurley, who's on a one-year deal himself.

5. Los Angeles Chargers

Coach Anthony Lynn, a former NFL running back and assistant at the position, wants the Bolts to be more ground-oriented. Austin Ekeler is mostly known for his receiving skills, so Fournette could be an ideal complement here as this team looks to fill departed Melvin Gordon's void. A move to L.A. might allow Fournette the chance to go house hunting with Rams CB Jalen Ramsey, his former teammate in Jacksonville.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers

No one in the Steel City has forgotten about Fournette hanging 109 rushing yards and three touchdown on the Steelers in the Jags' 2017 playoff upset at Heinz Field. The Steelers have an array of young options behind starter James Conner, who missed six games due to injuries in 2019, but Fournette certainly projects as a more intriguing one.

7. Seattle Seahawks

Philosophically, pairing Fournette with a team that wants to exert its will on the ground – while raising the level of competition within its own building – makes a lot of sense. That said, No. 1 RB Chris Carson seems recovered from the hip injury that cut his 2019 campaign short, and RB Carlos Hyde has already come aboard as insurance.

8. Chicago Bears

They dealt Jordan Howard last year given his limitations as a receiver. However Fournette might now be an attractive alternative given David Montgomery's recent groin injury could keep him out a month.

9. Miami Dolphins

Incidentally, Howard is now the nominal starter (and under contract through next season) for the Fins, who were the league's worst team running the ball in 2019. Fournette is clearly the more explosive player – and might be energized by the prospect of playing for coach Brian Flores and with first-round QB Tua Tagovailoa. Yet Fournette might be even more attractive to Miami – and perhaps other organizations – if he first clears waivers and becomes available beyond just the 2020 campaign.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis

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