Dave Caldwell Explains Why the Jaguars Released Leonard Fournette When They Did

John Shipley

It was a surprise to the system of most in the football world when the Jacksonville Jaguars released Leonard Fournette on Monday morning, but the Jaguars have attempted to explain the logic behind the process that went into the decision this week. 

Fournette, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, was coming off of a strong season with the Jaguars but the team opted to release him just 13 days before the team's Week 1 bout vs. the Indianapolis Colts.

The Jaguars had trade discussions involving Fournette before the NFL Draft, but the move still came as a shock after Fournette had been the team's No. 1 running back through all of camp. Still, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone reiterated on Monday that the Jaguars cut Fournette due to football reasons and their other running backs, and general manager Dave Caldwell said more of the same on Saturday.

“When we put the 80-man roster [together], we put the best 80 guys we felt [we had]," Cadlwell said during a press conference Saturday.

"Then, we didn’t know about James Robinson and [Offensive Coordinator] Coach [Jay] Gruden didn’t know a whole lot about Devine Ozigbo and to be honest with you, I didn’t know a whole lot about Chris Thompson outside of what I’ve seen [of] him in college and what he’s done in Washington. When you get those three guys in camp and you see what they can do, it was more about the guys that we kept versus anything else."

In three seasons, Fournette played in 36 regular season games and rushed 666 times for 2,631 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns, along with 134 receptions for 1,009 yards and two receiving touchdowns. He also played in three postseason games, rushing 70 times for 242 yards (3.46 average) and four touchdowns, with three of those touchdowns coming against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoff's Divisional Round.

But even with his past success, Fournette couldn't stick on Jacksonville's roster in 2020 due to the emergence of Devine Ozigbo and James Robinson. As Caldwell would go on to state, the team wanted to waive Fournette on Monday as opposed to cut day on Saturday to give him a better chance to find a new landing spot, which he would eventually do with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

"Leonard [Fournette]’s done a lot of great things for this team and this organization and we felt like to give him the best opportunity to land somewhere and not get caught up in the other transactions that are happening this week, where he’d have first shot and decide where he wanted to go, we felt like it was the best thing for him and the best thing for the team," Caldwell said. 

With second-year running back Ryquell Armstead on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, and having missed most of training camp due to a few small injuries and being on the COVID-19 list a previous time, the Jaguars are set to lean on Ozigbo and Robinson early on. 

Ozigbo only got 12 touches (nine carries, three catches) as a rookie last year, while the Jaguars have never seen Robinson in a game setting due to the lack of a preseason. But they have been impressed with what they have seen from them so far in camp, leading to the Fournette move.

"Devine [Ozigbo] had a really good preseason last year when you go back to watch him with the Saints [and that] is why we claimed him. Leonard [Fournette] was healthy for most of last year, that’s why he [Ozigbo] didn’t get a whole lot of action, and plus we had Rock [Ryquell Armstead]," Caldwell said. 

"James [Robinson] has really just been a pleasant surprise. We liked him at the East-West Game, and we were fortunate to kind of luck into him at the end of the draft.”

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