Leonard Fournette

NFC South Notes: Falcons, Suh, Panthers

Prior to the Browns coming in with their stunning offer, Deshaun Watson was speaking with veteran free agents about teaming up with the Falcons. Watson spoke with Leonard Fournette and Jarvis Landry about playing with him in Atlanta, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes (ESPN+ link). By the evening of March 17, the Falcons believed they had won the Watson sweepstakes, Fowler adds, and the quarterback was attempting to upgrade the team’s pass-catching corps. Cleveland’s fully guaranteed $230MM proposal changed everything, and Landry is now a possibility to return to the Browns. The eight-year veteran wide receiver visited the Falcons previously, but the team’s outlook has changed considerably since. Fournette re-signed with the Bucs this week.

Watson is a Brown, and Matt Ryan is now a Colt, leaving the Falcons with a record dead-money total and a rebuild to orchestrate. “We’re taking it on the chin this year,” Falcons GM Terry Fontenot said of the $40MM Ryan cap hit (via ESPN’s Michael Rothstein, on Twitter), but noted that the outlook will brighten in 2023. Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • Despite the Buccaneers bringing back William Gholston, Ndamukong Suh is likely still on the team’s radar. Suh has discussed a Tampa return with Bucs coaches, Fowler adds, viewing another year with the team as a good way to strengthen his Hall of Fame resume. The All-Decade defensive tackle has played with the Bucs for the past three seasons. Suh re-signed with Tampa Bay on March 24, 2021, and played for $9MM last season. The Bucs now have Vita Vea signed to a more lucrative deal, but the team is likely amenable to keeping Suh around, as it has continued to re-sign key vets.
  • Logan Ryan spent the bulk of his pre-New York days as a cornerback, but Jason Licht said (via The Athletic’s Greg Auman, on Twitter) he will play safety for the Bucs. Licht said the Bucs pursued Ryan during his lengthy free agency bid in 2020; the Giants signed him late that summer and extended him before the 2020 season ended. Ryan became a Giants cap casualty earlier this month and will join a Bucs team that lost starting safety Jordan Whitehead to the Jets.
  • The Panthers have struggled for years to lock down their left tackle position. They are still pursuing an answer here, per Fowler, who adds Carolina looked into Trent Brown‘s market. It does not appear Carolina wants to spent too much at the O-line’s most expensive position, with Fowler also noting the team viewed $10-$12MM per year as too rich for Brown, who re-signed with the Patriots for a deal that did not hit that price range. Brown’s deal is worth $6.5MM a year (base value). Panthers target Duane Brown remains on the market.
  • The Falcons hosted former Bengals, Bills and Jets tight end Tyler Kroft on a visit recently, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. Not known for his receiving prowess, Kroft has topped 200 receiving yards in just one of his seven seasons. The Falcons lost Kyle Pitts complement Hayden Hurst to the Bengals last week.
  • Former QB T.J. Yates will shift from Falcons passing-game specialist to their wide receivers coach, while Mario Jeberaeel is the team’s new assistant offensive line coach. Formerly an Abilene Christian assistant, Jeberaeel joined the Falcons as an intern in 2021. Former Bengals cornerbacks coach Steve Jackson will join the Falcons and make an interesting transition, signing on as a senior offensive assistant. An ex-NFL cornerback, Jackson has coached in the NFL for 21 years but has done so consistently on the defensive side.

Chiefs Host WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, RB Ronald Jones

Following the sudden trade of Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs are eyeing some offensive reinforcement. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reports (via Twitter) that the Chiefs hosted wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The reporter cautions that a deal is not imminent.

[RELATED: Chiefs Trade Tyreek Hill To Dolphins]

Meanwhile, Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com writes that running back Ronald Jones also visited Kansas City today.

Valdes-Scantling was a fifth-round pick by the Packers in 2018, and he didn’t miss a single regular season game during his first three seasons in the NFL, culminating in a 2020 campaign where he finished with a career-high 703 yards from scrimmage and a league-leading 20.9 yards per reception. The receiver had a stint on the IR in 2021 that limited him to only 11 games, and he finished the season with 430 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

Jones was also a 2018 draft pick, with the second-round RB getting selected by the Buccaneers. Jones saw an inconsistent role during his first four seasons in the NFL; he had more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage in both 2019 and 2020, but he was limited to only 492 yards from scrimmage in 2021 while playing second fiddle to Leonard Fournette.

 

Contract Details: Winston, Ward, Fournette, Conklin, Jones, Jewell, Vander Esch

Here are the latest details from recently agreed-upon contracts around the NFL:

  • Charvarius Ward, CB (49ers): Three years, $40.5MM. Of Ward’s $26.7MM in guarantees, $12MM comes via a signing bonus, Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus tweets. The 49ers will keep Ward’s initial cap hit low, with his 2022 figure checking in at $3.8MM. That spikes to $16.3MM in 2023. Two void years are included in Ward’s deal, giving the 49ers a cap charge of $4.81MM in 2025.
  • Jameis Winston, QB (Saints): Two years, $28MM. Winston received a $14MM signing bonus and has a $1.2MM fully guaranteed 2022 base salary, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes. $5.8MM of Winston’s $12.8MM 2023 base salary is presently guaranteed for injury; it will become fully guaranteed on Day 3 of the 2023 league year. Winston can earn up to $16MM in incentives, $8MM in each year, through team accomplishments — as long as Winston is the Saints’ primary starter — and participation rate.
  • Leonard Fournette, RB (Buccaneers): Three years, $21MM. Along with a $4.5MM signing bonus, the Bucs fully guaranteed Fournette’s 2022 base salary ($2MM) and $2MM of his $6.5MM 2023 base, Florio notes. Another $2MM of that amount turns from an injury guarantee to a full guarantee next year. Fournette’s $6.5MM 2024 base is nonguaranteed. Among the deal’s $1.5MM in incentives, which only cover 2023 and 2024, Fournette can collect $250K for finishing a season in the top 15 in rushing yards and $500K for a top-10 rushing finish.
  • Tyler Conklin, TE (Jets): Three years, $20.25MM. The Jets are guaranteeing Conklin $10MM, including $3.9MM of his 2023 base salary. Conklin’s cap hits go $3.4MM, $8.4MM, $8.4MM from 2022-24, Spielberger tweets.
  • Ben Jones, C (Titans): Two years, $14MM. Jones will see $8MM guaranteed, which comes via $6.88MM signing bonus and a guaranteed $1.12MM 2022 base salary, Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com tweets. Jones’ deal includes a $1MM roster bonus due on Day 5 of the 2023 league year. His 2023 base salary comes in at $5MM.
  • Josey Jewell, LB (Broncos): Two years, $11MM. The Broncos guaranteed Jewell $6MM, which is present through a $4MM signing bonus and a $1.5MM 2022 base salary, Wilson tweets. His nonguaranteed 2023 base comes in at $4.49MM. An additional $1MM in incentives are also available for the four-year veteran.
  • Leighton Vander Esch, LB (Cowboys): One year, $2MM. The Cowboys are guaranteeing $1.75MM and included an additional $1MM in playing-time incentives, Ari Meirov of PFF tweets.

Buccaneers To Re-Sign Leonard Fournette

One day after a visit with the Patriots, Leonard Fournette has decided to stay in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are re-signing the running back to a three-year, $21MM deal (Twitter link via NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport). He adds that the contract has a maximum value of $24MM. 

[RELATED: Patriots Meet With Fournette, Work Out Butler]

An ESPN report further details that the deal includes $9MM in guaranteed money. Fournette, 27, has spent the past two years in Tampa Bay after his time in Jacksonville came to an end. He was clearly willing to test the open market, given his visit in New England, but a return to the Buccaneers – especially given the unretirement of Tom Brady – was the most logical move in the eyes of many.

Fournette didn’t have the bell-cow type of workload he was used to as a Jaguar during his early days with the Buccaneers. However, he took over the starting role from Ronald Jones in 2021, and seized the opportunity. The former fourth overall pick averaged a career-high 4.5 yards per carry, and ranked sixth in the league amongst RBs with 1,266 scrimmage yards.

Keeping Fournette was also likely a necessary move, given the state of Tampa’s depth chart at the position. The aforementioned Jones, along with Giovani Bernard, are both unrestricted free agents, so this signing fills a roster hole. Along with the extension of receiver Chris Godwin, it also marks another sign of continuity in the Bucs’ offense, which – to much more of an extent than many thought – will look very similar in 2022 to what it has in the past two seasons.

Patriots Meeting With Leonard Fournette, Working Out Malcolm Butler

Two notable names are in Foxborough today. Free agent running back Leonard Fournette is visiting the Patriots, per ESPN’s Field Yates (Twitter link). 

[RELATED: Patriots To Re-Sign OT Brown]

Fournette, 27, spent the past two seasons in Tampa Bay after three seasons with the Jaguars. He took on a much larger role in his second year with the Bucs, receiving 249 touches compared to 133 the previous campaign. He totalled 812 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground, adding 69 catches for 454 yards and another two scores in the passing game.

The former fourth-overall pick would represent a significant addition to the Patriots’ run game. While New England ranked eighth in the league in rushing last season, Fournette’s pedigree and production would help strengthen the position group, currently headed by Damien Harris and Rhamondre StevensonOn the other hand, Rick Stroud of The Tampa Bay Times notes that the Buccaneers “would love” to retain the former LSU star (Twitter link).

Meanwhile, Ben Volin of The Boston Globe reports that the team is working out former cornerback Malcolm ButlerThe 32-year-old didn’t play in 2021, having walked away from the Cardinals near the beginning of the season due to personal reasons, but he took a step towards a comeback by visiting the Texans earlier this month.

Butler spent his first four seasons with the Patriots, a stretch which included two Super Bowl victories and his only Pro Bowl appearance. That earned him a big payday courtesy of Tennessee, where he played for three years. His final campaign with the Titans was highly productive – 100 tackles, four interceptions and 14 pass breakups – but he was released in a cost-cutting move.

Butler would likely help fill the void left by the free agency departure of J.C. Jackson in the Patriots’ secondary. If he and/or Fournette were to land in New England, they would mark significant moves in what has been a relatively quiet offseason so far for the team.

Tom Brady Coming Out Of Retirement, Will Rejoin Bucs

It looks like the Buccaneers’ quarterback questions have been answered for now. Get comfortable, Kyle Trask, you’ve got a bit longer to wait. After 40 days of retirement, Tom Brady has announced he will return for his 23rd season of NFL football in a tweet this evening. He announced he has unfinished business in Tampa after the team lost in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last year to the eventual-Super Bowl Champion Rams. 

Rumors of a Brady unretirement had persisted since his February 1st announcement. Brady even hinted at the possibility of a Favre-like return, coming back just in time for training camp. The Buccaneers, on the other hand, made it very clear that they had no intention of allowing Brady to play elsewhere for the 2022 NFL Season. It turns out, they have nothing to worry about for now. Brady cited his love for his teammates in his unretirement announcement.

Some details will need to be hashed out as Brady still had four years on his contract, with all years after 2022 being voided upon his retirement. Past that, Tampa Bay has several offensive pieces set to become unrestricted free agents including center Ryan Jensen, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard, and running backs Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones II, and Giovani Bernard. If they are going to attempt another glory run, these loose ends will need to be tied up.

In response to the news, no one is more happy to see the quarterback return than Rams’ cornerback Jalen Ramsey who was set to spend eternity as the last person to have Tom Brady throw a touchdown on them. On the other hand, no one is less happy to see the quarterback return than the unfortunate big-spender who just dropped $518,000 at an auction in a bid to receive Tom Brady’s final touchdown ball. Looks like there will be many other balls getting thrown past many other defensive backs before Brady retires again.

Minor NFL Transactions: 1/22/22

Here are Saturday’s minor moves:

Buffalo Bills

Los Angeles Rams

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buccaneers Activate Leonard Fournette From IR, Waive Le’Veon Bell

After the Buccaneers played without their top two running backs in their wild-card game, they are set to have one of them back against the Rams.

Leonard Fournette is coming off IR and will play Sunday, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Tampa Bay’s starting back has been out since suffering a hamstring injury in Week 15. The Bucs designated Fournette for return last week but kept him on IR ahead of their Eagles matchup, moving forward with Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Giovani Bernard.

This week, Fournette should play a major role. While it is not certain if the former top-five pick will be up for his pre-injury workload, the Bucs having their leading rusher back will certainly help their cause. The team’s running game might encounter tougher-than-usual sledding, given some key offensive line injuries.

Ryan Jensen and Tristan Wirfs did get in limited practices this week, but The Athletic’s Jeff Howe tweets the latter is dealing with a high ankle sprain. This troublesome ailment could keep Wirfs out, and even if the All-Pro right tackle plays, he figures to be far less than 100%. Wirfs has yet to miss a game in two seasons.

The Bucs will also be without Fournette backup Ronald Jones, but their primary 2020 back has not been much of a factor this season. After gaining only 367 rushing yards in 2020, which featured time as a healthy scratch, Fournette totaled 1,266 scrimmage yards and matched his career-high with 10 touchdowns despite the hamstring injury ending his regular season early. Fournette returning to his “Playoff Lenny” form would stand to cement his value ahead of free agency, which should feature a better market for the ex-Jaguar this time around.

To make room for Fournette, the Bucs are waiving Le’Veon Bell, Greg Auman of The Athletic tweets. This marks the second time this season a team has waived the former All-Pro. The Ravens cut bait during the regular season. Bell, however, makes sense as practice squad insurance for the Bucs. Bell’s route back to Tampa Bay’s taxi squad would be fairly smooth, given his one-year contract and any team claiming Bell being unable to use him in the playoffs.

Buccaneers To Activate Lavonte David, Giovani Bernard; Leonard Fournette To Remain On IR

Part of the Buccaneers’ injured contingent will be back in uniform for the defending champions Sunday. Lavonte David and Giovani Bernard are set to come off IR on Saturday, Jenna Laine of ESPN.com tweets.

David suffered a foot injury in Week 15, joining Leonard Fournette and Chris Godwin in going down during a shutout loss to the Saints. Godwin is done for the season, and Laine adds Fournette will not be activated ahead of Saturday’s roster-setting deadline. Fournette is battling a hamstring injury.

While Bernard has not played a key role this season, he will be in line to do so against the Eagles. Not only is Fournette out, but the Bucs also declared Ronald Jones out because of an ankle injury. Tampa Bay has Bernard, Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Le’Veon Bell as its healthy backs.

Fournette carried the load for the Bucs for most of this season, reducing Jones and the others to bit parts. The former Jaguars top-five pick totaled a Bucs-most 1,266 scrimmage yards in 14 games. Fournette can still be activated ahead of a divisional-round game or the NFC championship, provided this Bucs iteration’s season extends that far.

One of the NFL’s top off-ball linebackers over the past 10 seasons, David was instrumental to the Bucs claiming their second Super Bowl title last season. He totaled 97 tackles and two forced fumbles this season and ranks as Pro Football Focus’ No. 7 linebacker. David will be tasked with leading a charge against an Eagles team that leads the NFL in rushing.

Bruce Arians said Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul are also on track to return against Philadelphia. While Barrett was a full practice participant Friday, JPP did not suit up for even a limited session due to his shoulder and knee injuries. JPP is not on IR, however, and has not been declared out.

Minor NFL Transactions: 1/12/22

Here are Wednesday’s minor moves:

Dallas Cowboys 

Green Bay Packers

Los Angeles Rams

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers