Leonard Fournette

RB Leonard Fournette Addresses Bills Deal, Free Agent Interest

Leonard Fournette will have to wait at least one week to make his Bills debut, but he has already spoken about the deal sending him to Buffalo to close out the season. The veteran back recently touched on his lengthy free agent process, which included suitors other than his new team.

“I had a couple teams reach out to me,” Fournette said, via Nick Wojton of BillsWire“But I really wanted to do what’s best for me, a fresh start out here in Buffalo. I have a lot left in the tank to play, it was all about the right opportunity.”

The 28-year-old joined the Bills’ practice squad this week, but as is the case with many veterans, he is expected to soon see time as a least a gameday elevation to the active roster. Fournette will look to earn a workload behind lead back James Cook in conjunction with fellow veteran Latavius Murray. Damien Harris currently finds himself on IR, so a depth role should be attainable for Fournette in the short term at a minimum.

It came as no surprise that the 28-year-old finalized a deal with Buffalo, given Harris’ absence and their previously-arranged visit. That was ultimately canceled, but Bills general manager Brandon Beane confirmed when speaking to the media after the agreement that the sides remained in contact. Now that a deal is in place, it will be interesting to see how much Fournette is used down the stretch and thus the degree to which he can help his free agent value ahead of 2024.

The Super Bowl winner averaged exactly 4.0 yards per carry with both the Jaguars and Buccaneers during his three-year stints with each franchise, serving as a focal point of Tampa Bay’s offense in the postseason during the team’s title run. However, Fournette received little interest during the offseason (one in which the RB position as a whole saw its finanal valuation continue to decline) after his Buccaneers release, having to wait deep into the campaign to find a deal. While his remarks indicate that was partially by choice, he will no doubt need to produce at a notable level in the coming weeks to generate a larger market for his services in the spring.

Bills To Sign RB Leonard Fournette

After a seven-plus-month stay in free agency, Leonard Fournette has found a new home. The former top-five pick agreed to terms with the Bills on Monday, Bleacher Report’s Jordan Schultz tweets.

Fournette will join a Bills team that recently placed Damien Harris on IR. While this will be a practice squad deal for the former Jaguars and Buccaneers back, it would certainly not surprise if Fournette suited up soon. Teams continually use the P-squad as a bridge to bring veterans onto active rosters, and Schultz indicates that will be the plan here.

This agreement comes after an interesting news cycle, one that featured a report indicating the Bills planned to meet with Fournette and another confirming no such visit took place. Nevertheless, the Bills had the seventh-year back on their radar. Fournette will join a backfield housing James Cook and Latavius Murray.

He of two 1,000-yard seasons in Jacksonville and a key role in Tampa, Fournette profiles as an interesting piece for the Buffalo offense. The Bills had added Harris on a one-year, $1.77MM accord in March. But the neck injury he sustained in Week 6 changed the team’s plans. Harris had worked as a Cook complementary piece, taking handoffs near the goal line at points. Murray has been a between-the-tackles supporting-caster as well, and the Bills have rolled with a Cook-Murray tandem since the Harris injury. It is unclear if Harris will return this season, but the Bills have insurance going forward.

When the Bucs released Fournette in February, it was described as a mutual separation. But Fournette languished in free agency for much of the year and did not land a deal until midseason. The LSU product worked out for the Patriots and was on the Colts’ radar during their period with both Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss out of the picture. No deals commenced; both teams brought in other backs. Fournette, 28, should at least be fresh after taking half the season off. He also has not topped 200 carries in a season since his final Jaguars slate (2019).

Choosing Fournette over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in 2017, the Jaguars did benefit from the power runner in the late 2010s. Fournette drove a Jags offense down Allen Robinson to the AFC championship game, but a falling out transpired that led to a summer 2020 release. The Bucs used Fournette primarily as a backup during the 2020 regular season, but the “Playoff Lenny” moniker soon took hold, with the free agency pickup totaling 448 scrimmage yards in four Bucs postseason efforts that year. Fournette supplanted Jones as the Bucs’ starter and held that job for two more seasons.

After a productive 2021, the Bucs gave Fournette a three-year, $21MM deal in March 2022. This mirrored the contract the Cardinals handed James Conner. While the latter remains attached to those terms, Fournette had to settle for a P-squad pact that will turn into veteran-minimum money if/once he lands on Buffalo’s active roster. The Bucs guaranteed Fournette $9MM at signing, and he earned $27MM fully guaranteed on his Jags rookie deal. Hitting free agency during a brutal time for the RB position, Fournette will now attempt to re-establish his value as a Bills role player.

RB Leonard Fournette Will Not Visit Bills

OCTOBER 17: Fournette will not, in fact be heading to Buffalo today. Schultz notes that the Bills expected to lose Ty Johnson off their practice squad, but since that is not happening, they will not host Fournette for an audition. The latter has still received interest from a number of teams, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reports, but he does not have any visits lined up at this point.

OCTOBER 16: After receiving some promising news about running back Damien Harris, who was taken off the field in an ambulance after suffering a “neck sprain” last night, according to NFL Insider Jordan Schultz, the team is still dealing with the fact that they may be without him for a period of time. With Nyheim Hines suffering a season-ending injury before the season even began, this leaves the Bills with only James Cook and Latavius Murray as healthy active roster running backs.

Enter free agent running back Leonard Fournette. Schultz claims that Fournette has informed him that he will be visiting the Bills‘ facility tomorrow. After three years each with the Jaguars and Buccaneers, Fournette has been a free agent since being released by Tampa Bay in February.

Fournette hasn’t been quiet in his free agency, fielding calls from the Patriots, who would end up signing Ezekiel Elliott, and Colts, who found a resurgent break out from Zack Moss. He’s been ready, though, staying in good enough shape to perform at workouts, the newest of which will be in Buffalo tomorrow.

So far this season, the Bills have essentially used Cook as a workhorse, utilizing Harris and Murray to spell Cook for short periods. Murray has proven to be plenty serviceable as a backup running back over the years, but at 33 years old, he doesn’t have quite the same tread remaining as the 28-year-old Fournette.

Fournette could come in and provide the Bills with a true RB2 who can do a bit more than just give Cook a breather. Fournette would have a chance at coming in and actually earning snaps in certain situations. As for the likelihood of this opportunity, Schultz claims that “there’s a good chance (Fournette) signs in Buffalo if all goes well.”

Colts In Communication With RBs Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette

With their Jonathan Taylor-less backfield still in flux due to injuries, the Colts remain interested in a free agent addition at the running back spot. As a result, they are in talks with two of the top options still available.

Indianapolis has communicated with both Kareem Hunt and Leonard Fournette, reports ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. The former met with the Colts last month as part of his late-offseason free agent tour, though no deal materialized. Hunt also drew interest from the Saints and Vikings, but they too elected not to sign him in advance of the regular season.

The former Chief and Brown was reported to have received four offers around the time of final roster cuts, but he has remained patient on the open market. Hunt would have a path to immediate playing time with the Colts for the time being, giving the absence of Taylor until at least Week 5. That is the earliest point at which the 2021 rushing champion can suit up in Indianapolis, though a trade sending him elsewhere is still in the cards. A lead role will be unlikely for Hunt in 2023, however, barring further injury developments around the league.

The same holds true for Fournette, whose release request was granted by the Buccaneers in February. The 28-year-old lost his starting role to Rachaad White in the 2022 campaign, and in the wake of Tom Brady‘s retirement, he favored a fresh start. Not much in the way of interest was shown in him through the offseason, however, with the Patriots hosting him on a workout but coming away unimpressed with his conditioning. It will be interesting to see if the Colts’ interest rises to the point of bringing him in for a free agent visit in the near future.

Indianapolis lost another member of its backfield in Week 1 with Evan Hull suffering a knee injury. He is now on IR and will thus miss at least the next four weeks of the season. The fifth-round rookie’s absence adds to Taylor’s stay on the PUP list, and questions remain regarding when Zack Moss will be able to suit up after recovering from a broken arm. The Colts worked out Darrell Henderson earlier this week, so Hunt and Fournette will have competition for a roster spot if they match the team’s interest in a potential deal. In any case, a move at the RB spot could be coming soon in Indianapolis.

Latest On Patriots’ Interest In RBs Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette

Much of the attention on the free agent market is aimed at Dalvin Cook, but a number of other veteran running backs remain unsigned. Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette are among them, despite the fact they each visited the Patriots last month.

Elliott has received little interest since his Cowboys release, and a return to Dallas (while still possible) continues to appear unlikely. The Patriots could use the former rushing champion as a high-end backup to Rhamondre Stevenson, and Elliott is believed to be New England’s target rather than Cook in that regard. Finances are a barrier which has yet to be overcome on the Elliott front, however.

Outkick’s Armando Salguero notes that New England has a price point which it is not prepared to surpass to sign Elliott. The Patriots currently have just over $17MM in cap space, so they could afford to outbid a competing team if that becomes necessary. For now, though, they will wait for Elliott to make a decision on his future in the aftermath of an encouraging visit to Foxborough.

The same is not true of Fournette’s trek to New England. Selguero adds that the former Jaguar and Buccaneer’s conditioning was not impressive when he worked out with the Patriots. Fournette dealt with weight issues ahead of last season, one in which he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and ceded playing time to Rachaad White. In the aftermath of Tom Brady‘s retirement, Fournette asked for and was granted his release from Tampa Bay.

That move has left him on the open market into August, with little interest shown outside of New England. The Patriots have kept their options open regarding a veteran RB addition, having also worked out Darrell Henderson. At the moment, Elliott seems the likeliest move at the position, but the plethora of backs still available certainly makes this a buyer’s market with preseason set to begin around the league.

Patriots Work Out RB Leonard Fournette, Darrell Henderson

3:56pm: Darrell Henderson also took part in this workout, Pelissero adds (on Twitter). The former Ram’s market has been just as quiet as Fournette’s this offseason. The Jaguars waived Henderson shortly after claiming him late last year. Henderson does have two 600-plus-yard rushing seasons on his resume and operated as the Rams’ starting back for much of their Super Bowl LVI-winning season.

But the former third-round pick is coming off a down contract year, one in which he gained just 385 scrimmage yards and did not see action after being claimed by the Jags.

11:54am: The Patriots met with Leonard Fournette during his 2022 free agency stay. Nearly 18 months later, the sides will huddle up again. Fournette is set to work out for the Pats on Wednesday, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets.

New England has been kicking the tires on running back depth, per the Boston Herald’s Doug Kyed, and has been in the Dalvin Cook mix for a bit now. Fournette’s market is not expected to reach the Cook level, opening the door to a lower-cost Pats addition at the position.

Fournette, 28, met with the Patriots in March 2022 but ended up back with the Buccaneers on a three-year, $21MM deal. Fournette and the Bucs mutually parted ways in March of this year, but not much has come out regarding the former top-five pick’s market since. Fournette joins the likes of Cook, Ezekiel Elliott and Kareem Hunt as notable RBs in free agency.

A former No. 4 overall Jaguars pick, Fournette served as the centerpiece of an offense that faced the Patriots in the 2017 AFC championship game. Three years later, Fournette came on late to make major contributions in the Bucs’ Super Bowl LV-winning season. Tampa Bay rewarded Fournette with contracts in 2021 and ’22. The latter deal included $12MM guaranteed. That contract was in line with what the Cardinals gave James Conner last spring, but this offseason brought a market crash at running back. This market sits in a strange place after numerous cost-cutting measures — and Monday’s lack of extensions for three franchise-tagged players — reduced the position’s standing further.

Adding Fournette would seemingly remove the Pats from the Cook market. It is worth wondering if recent events will impact Cook offers as well. But Fournette will be in Foxborough today, exploring a possible partnership with a third NFL team.

The Bucs ranked last in rushing in 2022; Fournette’s yards per carry dropped by a full yard. The LSU product had averaged 4.5 per tote in 2021, but as just about everything on the Bucs’ offense worsened last year, the team’s starting back averaged a 3.5 yards per handoff. Fournette totaled 1,191 scrimmage yards, however, contributing a career-high 523 through the air. Earning the “Playoff Lenny” alias for his work during the Bucs’ Super Bowl march, Fournette finished with 448 scrimmage yards in the team’s four 2020 playoff games. Prior to a hamstring injury that shut Fournette down in Week 15 of the 2021 season, he totaled 1,266 scrimmage yards as the Bucs’ lead back.

Rhamondre Stevenson resides as the Pats’ starter, with Kyed adding Pierre Strong has a chance to solidify the No. 2 role. But the team being connected to multiple big-name backs could impede the second-year player’s RB2 quest. Stevenson’s status as the team’s starter, especially after Damien Harris‘ free agency exit, should not be considered in jeopardy at this point. But the team may be set to bring in a proven back to complement him soon.

Buccaneers To Cut RB Leonard Fournette

In the league’s worst cap shape, the Buccaneers will need to make a number of moves to comply with the NFL’s new salary ceiling by March 15. One of them looks to be parting ways with their starting running back.

The Bucs plan to release Leonard Fournette, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. This will create nearly $4MM in cap space while also carrying some dead money, with Tampa Bay having just re-signed Fournette last year. Fournette would have received an additional $2MM in guarantees on Day 5 of the 2023 league year (March 19), Pelissero tweets, leading to this transaction.

This was a mutual decision. Fournette said he wanted out due to the team likely shifting into a rebuilding phase, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times tweets. The six-year veteran said he asked the team for the release, confirming Tom Brady‘s retirement would signal his own Tampa exit.

Winning is everything,” Fournette said, via Stroud (on Twitter). “That’s all. And my last three years here, that’s all we’ve done. But since my guy [Brady] left, that’s why I came so my time here was up. I asked after the season to be [released], and they respected my wishes. So, no bad blood.”

Fournette, 28, played a major role in the Bucs securing their second Super Bowl title and resurrected his career in Tampa, following an unceremonious end to his Jacksonville run. But the Bucs featured the NFL’s worst rushing attack last season. Fournette averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and did not surpass 700 yards on the ground despite playing 16 games.

The Bucs agreed to three contracts with Fournette. The team signed him after the Jaguars shed his first-round contract back in 2020, gave him a one-year deal in 2021 and authorized a three-year pact in 2022. The most recent contract was for three years and $21MM — matching 2017 draft classmate James Conner‘s 2022 Cardinals pact — that included $9MM guaranteed at signing. The Bucs will pick up $3.4MM in cap savings but eat $5MM in dead money.

A former top-five pick, Fournette totaled 300 rushing yards and three touchdowns during Tampa Bay’s four-game playoff run in 2020. Earning “Playoff Lenny” and “Lombardi Lenny” aliases, the LSU product morphed from a Ronald Jones backup to the centerpiece of Tampa Bay’s ground attack. He totaled 1,266 scrimmage yards in 14 games in 2021, taking over as the team’s full-time starter. That baton may well be passed to Rachaad White, whom the Bucs draft in the third round last year.

While White did not fare too much better on a per-carry basis last year (3.7), his rookie contract runs through 2025. The Bucs will almost definitely be saying goodbye to more Brady-era starters, thanks to their former quarterback’s $35.1MM void-years bill coming due. Fournette will be hitting free agency at a bad time, with numerous starter-caliber backs set to flood the market. But he made it clear he will try to catch on with a contender — almost certainly at a reduced rate from his 2022 Bucs pact.

NFC South Notes: Panthers, Lombardi, Bucs

Drawing a few negative headlines during his five-year run as Panthers owner, David Tepper has seen his team continue a years-long search for a quality quarterback. Carolina will be at it again this offseason. Although Tepper’s multi-offseason push for Deshaun Watson stalled near the end zone, the Panthers came close to acquiring Matthew Stafford in 2021. After negotiations with Lions GM Brad Holmes, team brass left the Senior Bowl convinced it would land the longtime Detroit QB. The Rams subsequently swooped in, and Joe Person of The Athletic notes Tepper mandated his staff slow down on Stafford due to wanting more information on his injury history (subscription required).

At that point, Stafford had only missed games in one of the previous 10 seasons. Though, the rocket-armed QB had played through a host of injuries during his 12-year Lions run. This delay, however, helped allow the Rams time to formulate a trade package that ended up sending the talented QB to Los Angeles and Jared Goff to Detroit. This could have been a moot point, with Stafford indicating he did not want to play for the Panthers, but Carolina did offer its first-round pick (No. 8 overall) and more for a passer without a no-trade clause. The Panthers sent three picks for Sam Darnold soon after. Darnold is a few weeks from free agency.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • Frank Reich has praised Tepper for his willingness to spend for assistant coach talent. This included what looks to have become a defensive coordinator bidding war. Shortly after the Broncos let Ejiro Evero out of his contract, the hot HC candidate drew interest from the Panthers and Vikings. Carolina outbid Minnesota to land the defensive coordinator, Person adds. The Panthers have also added ex-HCs Jim Caldwell and Dom Capers, along with Josh McCown, to Reich’s staff.
  • Broncos ownership could also outmuscle teams for assistants. It is not known what kind of interest Joe Lombardi drew, but the new Denver assistant also drew interest from the Saints, Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com tweets. The two-year Chargers OC spent 12 years under Payton in New Orleans. The Saints are keeping Broncos OC candidate Ronald Curry on staff as QBs coach, but they were unable to lure Lombardi back to town. Lombardi is set for a coordinator-type role in Denver.
  • The Buccaneers will fill their quarterbacks coach post by promoting former NFL passer Thad Lewis, in news reported by Seahawks QB Geno Smith (Twitter link). Lewis and Smith played against each other as Miami high schoolers and have remained close; the free agent-to-be clarified (via Twitter) this was the reason — not a sudden interest in joining the Bucs — for his excitement. The Bucs employed Lewis as their assistant wide receivers coach over the past two years, with the Tampa Bay Times’ Rick Stroud adding Bruce Arians had visions of Lewis as a future offensive coordinator (Twitter link). Smith and the Seahawks have begun negotiations.
  • Tampa Bay hired Dave Canales as OC, from Seattle’s staff, to help fix its league-worst rushing attack. Leonard Fournette did not make the same impact he had in 2021. While the Bucs signed Fournette to a three-year, $21MM deal in March 2022, the running back has changed agents (Twitter link). The seventh-year running back is now with GSE Worldwide.
  • North Carolina’s tight ends coach, John Lilly will be making an NFL move in the same state. The Panthers will keep Lilly in North Carolina, bringing him in to coach their tight ends, Person tweets. Lilly, who worked on the 2019 Browns’ staff, overlapped at Georgia with new Panthers OC Thomas Brown in 2015. He has 30-plus years’ experience at the college and pro levels.
  • Former Colts staffer Brian Decker will follow Frank Reich to Carolina. The Panthers announced Decker is now the team’s vice president of development, a role Darin Gantt of Panthers.com notes will involve evaluating and developing players and coaches. A 22-year military veteran, Decker joined the Colts in 2017 and was in on the interviews that produced Reich’s hire.

Buccaneers Activate Giovani Bernard; Leonard Fournette Out

Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette exited the team’s game against the Seahawks in Munich due to a hip pointer two weeks ago and was unable to get right during Tampa Bay’s bye week. Fournette has been ruled out as the team comes back for a game in Cleveland this week, and Tampa Bay will activate running back Giovani Bernard from injured reserve, providing a little depth at the position, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

Fournette started out the season as the Buccaneers’ top rusher. As the season has progressed, though, third-round rookie running back Rachaad White has earned more and more carries, slowly taking away from Fournette’s role. The trend has advanced to the point that White was named Tampa Bay’s starting running back when the team traveled to Germany. Fournette still contributed to the team’s win, rushing for 57 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown but was removed from the rotation due to the hip injury.

Bernard’s role has drastically diminished since his tenure in Cincinnati. In his first year with the Buccaneers last season, Bernard’s carries dropped from 124 in 2020 to only eight. Tampa Bay utilized the veteran solely as a pass catcher out of the backfield. Even that role seemed to diminish this season as Bernard only appeared on special teams during the two games before going on IR.

With Fournette out, White will remain unchallenged as the team’s starting running back this week. Third-year back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, whose role has also drastically decreased this season with the emergence of White, should serve as the No. 2 running back behind White with Bernard contributing as a potential third-down receiving back, if at all on offense.

In order to make room for Bernard on the roster, the Buccaneers has waived linebacker J.J. Russell. Their linebacker depth won’t be depleted, though, as practice squad linebacker Ulysees Gilbert will be a gameday elevation against the Browns.

Injury Updates: Dobbins, Allen, Cardinals

J.K. Dobbins sat out the first two games of the season, started for four weeks, and then landed on injured reserve. When Dobbins was knocked out by knee surgery in mid-October, it was thought that the Ravens running back had suffered another knee injury. However, the second-year pro made it clear that the surgery was precautionary and intended to remedy lingering effects from his earlier surgery.

“I didn’t get reinjured,” Dobbins told WBJ in Baltimore (via NFL Network’s Mike Giardi on Twitter). “I didn’t hurt myself or anything. I just didn’t feel like myself… there was some stuff in my knee that was making me not feel like myself. It wasn’t bad, I could have still played … but I’d rather be 100 percent going into the playoffs towards the end of the year so I could really do what I really need to do to help the team win.”

Following a rookie campaign that saw him finish with more than 900 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns, Dobbins collected 162 yards and two touchdowns this season before landing on injured reserve. As Gus Edwards continues to nurse a hamstring injury, the Ravens have leaned on Kenyan Drake to lead the RB room.

More injury notes from around the NFL…

  • While it sounds like Josh Allen won’t be forced to miss any time with his elbow injury, the Bills quarterback will be on a strict recovery plan for the foreseeable future. Allen told reporters that Buffalo’s training staff has him “on a specific plan that we’ll follow,” and CBS’s Jonathan Jones assumes that the quarterback will continue to be limited in practice going forward (Twitter link). Allen did acknowledge that his right elbow will eventually get back to normal, so there shouldn’t be any lingering concerns about his outlook moving forward.
  • Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray said he originally injured his hamstring in Week 8 against the Vikings, played through the injury, and then tweaked his hamstring in Week 9, per ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss on Twitter. Colt McCoy got the start for Arizona in Week 10, and while Murray acknowledged that he’s feeling better, he’s still unsure of his status for Monday night’s game against the 49ers.
  • Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. While we don’t know any specifics surrounding the injury, coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters that the veteran will undergo surgery (per Weinfuss on Twitter). Ertz totaled 406 yards and four touchdowns on 47 receptions in 2022 before getting sidelined. The veteran inked a three-year, $31.65MM contract with the Cardinals this past offseason.
  • Leonard Fournette suffered a hip pointer last weekend, but the Buccaneers running back isn’t expected to miss any time following the team’s Week 11 bye, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter). Rookie Rachaad White got an extended look filling in for Fournette, finishing with 22 carries for 105 yards.
  • Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker told reporters that he’s still dealing with an ankle injury suffered in Week 1 that forced him to miss four games. “I’m not at 100%, no,” the veteran said (via Jesse Newell of the Kansas City Star). “I mean, if I was at 100%, I’d be doing full steps on my kickoffs or going back to the 10 yards and everything.” Butker has struggled in the five games he’s played in 2022, connecting on only 62.5 percent of his field goal attempts. He’s also missed a pair of extra point tries over the past two weeks.