Did the Jaguars Make the Right Move With Leonard Fournette?

Leonard Fournette has become a huge reason that Tampa Bay is making an apperance in the Super Bowl, leading to the question of whether the Jaguars were right or wrong for cutting him 13 days before the season.
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What Playoff Lenny once did for the Jacksonville Jaguars, he has now done for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

For all of Fournette's down moments of production since the Jaguars made him the No. 4 overall pick in 2017, he has always shown up when called upon in January. 

Now he has helped lead his new team to a Super Bowl appearance, begging the question of whether the Jaguars got it right with their handling of Fournette.

The Jaguars and former head coach Doug Marrone made the shocking move to release Fournette just 13 days before the 2020 season opener against the Indianapolis Colts. The thinking then, at least by the Jaguars, was that they could get better production out of their other running backs and that a split between them and Fournette would be best for both sides. 

Now, Fournette is four quarters away from being a Super Bowl champion. Meanwhile, the Jaguars own the draft's No. 1 overall pick due to the worst season in franchise history. 

In three playoff games with the Buccaneers, Fournette has carried the ball 48 times for 211 yards (4.39 yards per carry) and two touchdowns, along with 14 catches for 102 yards and a touchdown. He has averaged over 100 scrimmage yards plus a touchdown per game, making him a key piece to Tampa Bay's puzzle.

But despite his terrific play over the last three weeks, this is simply a case of a win-win scenario. Neither Fournette nor the Jaguars should be disappointed with how things turned out following Fournette's release, even if Fournette is now a crucial member of a Super Bowl team. 

“It feels good just to be a Buc," Fournette said after Sunday's NFC Championship victory over Green Bay.

"I was crying for like 30 minutes a couple of minutes ago, on the phone with my mom and my dad," he continued. "And it was about my journey. You know, first from Jacksonville, from jail, from me going to jail, from me getting cut."

For the Jaguars, releasing Fournette gave them a chance to move on from a player who was never positioned to earn a second contract from the team. Fournette had butted heads in the past with Tom Coughlin, but that wasn't the reason for his release in 2020. Instead, it was done because the Jaguars thought they had running backs on their roster worth giving the lion's share of the offense's opportunities to. 

Without releasing Fournette when they did, the Jaguars would have had a tougher time finding out what they had in undrafted rookie running back James Robinson. The Jaguars wouldn't have released Fournette without being impressed immensely by Robinson beforehand, but Robinson's play made them look like geniuses despite their 1-15 record.

Robinson ranked second among rookies with 1,414 scrimmage yards (1,070 rushing, 344 receiving) – the most scrimmage yards by an undrafted rookie in the common-draft era – and became the fourth undrafted rookie with at least 1,000 rushing yards since 1967. He had 10 touchdowns (seven rushing, three receiving) in 2020 and is the third undrafted rookie with 10 touchdowns in the common draft era, joining Phillip Lindsay (2018) and Dominic Rhodes (2001). 

Robinson also had seven games with at least 100 scrimmage yards this season, tied with Clark Gaines (seven games in 1976) for the most such games by an undrafted rookie since 1967. He is only nine touchdowns short of tying Fournette's own touchdown mark with the team. 

Meanwhile, Fournette has been given a new opportunity. His tenure in Jacksonville wasn't always smooth, but getting away from the league's worst team and landing on one of the NFL's best has done wonders for Fournette's career. He is playing with people like Tom Brady, Mike Evans, and Tristan Wirfs, quality offensive players he was never surrounded by in Jacksonville. 

During the regular season, Fournette rushed 97 times for 367 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and six touchdowns. He was the team's second-best running back behind Ronald Jones. He has been a revelation for the team during the postseason, but he wasn't lighting up the field each and every Sunday this season. If you only include the first 17 Sundays of the 2020 season, then moving on from Fournette for Robinson is more than reasonable.

The Jaguars should regret that it didn't work out with Fournette after picking him so highly. They should regret that they couldn't get his playoff form to show up during the regular season like it has in the 2017 and 2020 postseasons. But Fournette's strong play in the postseason doesn't mean they regret moving on when they did.

A few months following Fournette's release, he has reached the NFL's mountaintop. He has found a team and community that have embraced him, and he has become a big reason why his team is on the verge of clinching the Lombardi Trophy. 

As a result, neither party should have any remorse over their departure. It is rare for such a move to work out for both sides, but that is truly the case when it comes to the Jaguars and Fournette.