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Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2022 Free Agent Profile: RB Leonard Fournette

Breaking down the contract situation for each of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2022 free agents. Next up, running back Leonard Fournette.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in addition to replacing the greatest quarterback of all time, are tasked with addressing the status of 26 free agents this offseason, including 10 starters.

Due to a lack of significant cap space — currently hovering just over $3 million, per Over the Cap — it won't be easy, if even possible, for the Bucs to bring all 26 players back, or even all of their first-teamers who are set to hit the market.

AllBucs is creating profiles for each of Tampa Bay's imminent free agents for the 2022 offseason. Already touching on two integral pieces of the offense and defense in wide receiver Chris Godwin and cornerback Carlton Davis III, next up is an unexpected postseason hero during the Buccaneers' quest for a Super Bowl in 2020: Running back Leonard Fournette.

We'll discuss the value each player provides the team and try our best to predict whether or not Tampa Bay will prioritize bringing them back.

RB Leonard Fournette

2021 stats (playoffs included): 193 carries, 863 yards, 4.5 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns, 78 receptions, 510 yards, two touchdowns

Previous contract: One year, $3.25 million

Spotrac market value and projected contract: $6.2 million annually; two years, $12.3 million

Leonard Fournette is scheduled to be, arguably, the most sought-after running back in the 2022 offseason.

Spending the first three years of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars before the relationship grew stale, Fournette flashed signs of stardom, namely with his strong rookie campaign. In 2020, following his untimely release approaching the end of the preseason, Tampa Bay elected to kick the tires on a running back with high potential and little tread at the professional level.

Their decision paid dividends.

Returning to form as a physically imposing rusher with a knack for breaking tackles and breaking routine runs for significant gains, "Lombardi Lenny" grew to be a major factor in the offense. 

His contributions in the Super Bowl, which included a deal-sealing 27-yard touchdown run to go up 28-9 in the third quarter, led Tampa Bay to lift their first Lombardi Trophy since 2002.

While his skills on the ground were undeniable, his constant improvement out of the backfield as a pass-catcher, culminating in a nine-reception performance against the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, made him a valuable piece for the Tom Brady-led offense as a safety valve.

Although oft-injured, missing three games in 2021 due to a hamstring injury, Fournette has been the clear-cut RB1 in the Bucs offense when healthy.

Since solidifying the starting role over Ronald Jones II following his impressive performances down the stretch of the season in 2020, Fournette has served as a vital complement on the ground for a dynamic passing attack. Outperforming those listed below him on the depth chart — Jones and Ke'Shawn Vaughn — from a consistency standpoint, the former No. 4 overall pick in 2017 has the potential to draw considerable interest from an assortment of teams in need of a dynamic rusher.

As a result, according to Michael Lombardo, Fournette is expected to test free agency this offseason.

His desire to test the market doesn't rule out a return to The Bay. However, with his price tag set to be higher than the Bucs can accommodate for without a sizable discount, it's fair to say the former LSU Tiger will be suiting up in different threads at the start of the 2022 season.

Head coach Bruce Arians and company could hand the reigns of the backfield over to Jones, who has valuable bell-cow experience from before Fournette was acquired. He even flashed his talents alongside Fournette in 2020, drastically leading the Bucs on the ground in touches (197), yards (978) and touchdowns (7) during the regular season.

Jones would re-assume his high-volume role, with Vaughn serving as a complement in rotation. However, that would require re-signing Jones before he hits free agency as well, although his demands would naturally be lesser than Fournette's.

Another direction the team could take is drafting a ball carrier. Top options for the position currently include Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III, Texas A&M's Isaiah Spiller and Iowa State's Breece Hall, amongst others. Without a clear-cut number one rusher in this class, the Bucs could find themselves with a viable option later in the draft if filling the hole with a rookie is the direction they take.

Fast-rising Florida Gators running back Dameon Pierce, who presents the physicality Fournette brought to the table, is a sleeper the Bucs could look toward in the second or third round, depending on his availability.

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