What’s best for the team…
That was the phrase, motto, reasoning one could say, that Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone kept referring back to when trying to explain why the Jags had waived former first round running back Leonard Fournette fewer than two weeks before the 2020 season opener.
It’s what was best for the team.
Marrone — who was the one to inform Fournette of the move — said the decision had nothing to do with any locker room personalities. The Jags and Fournette's spring was marked by public requests from Fournette to bring in Cam Newton and by a very public trade request from the front office that was unmet, but Marrone said Monday that it was a decision based on only play on the field.
“It strictly has to do on the field,” Marrone told reporters early Monday morning.
“Really that's what led to decision and it's been something that, you know, we've done it with every single position that we've been looking at.”
Fournette was a star back for the LSU Tigers and taken by the Jags No. 4 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. Despite his consensus talent, the pick at the time meant bypassing quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes (No. 10 overall to Kansas City Chiefs) and Deshaun Watson (No. 12 overall to Houston Texans), electing instead to roll with Blake Bortles for another year.
Still, Fournette rushed for over 1,000+ yards in his rookie season (1,282 yards; 43-346 receiving) and the 2019 season (1,152; 76-522 receiving). He was in the last year of his rookie contract and by all appearances during training camp, still was the team’s RB1 for the 2020 season.
But those two century marks weren’t going to guarantee a job this season according to the coach.
“Let's not go ahead and say well, because someone did something before maybe we'll get the same type of results.”
Marrone says it was never his intention coming into this training camp to find an opportunity to cut Fournette.
“That was never my intention," Marrone said. "My intention was to make sure of a, ‘listen let's see what we have. Let's get to work, let's see where everyone is, let’s see what they can do, let's want to do everything and then make a decision then.’ So you know to say that I had my mind made up—there’s actually like two or three positions right now that I'm still a little bit unsure of, you know that we're trying to evaluate at this time.
“So I came in, everyone—clean slate, no issues, everything move forward. Everything's gonna be, you know, what's on the field, being a good teammate all the stuff I'm talking about, everyone, this is what I said to everyone on the team. And I tried to challenge all the people around me to say, ‘let's go off what we see. Let's take names, take draft picks, take all that stuff off the jerseys, take it off the table. Okay. And then let's put them on the field and see who the best players are and what's going to be best for our team.”
The presumed better players left on the roster following Fournette’s departure are Ryquell Armstead, Nathan Cottrell, Devine Ozigbo, James Robinson and Chris Thompson. Two of those are undrafted free agents (Cottrell and Robinson) and the other three have combined for 1,329 yards over nine seasons (Armstead and Ozigbo have one season each, Thompson has seven).
Armstead has missed a significant portion of training camp practice with illness. He was held out again Monday, with the team clarifying it was not COVID-19 related. Ozigbo and Robinson have flashed on days they have received more reps. Thompson spent his entire career thus far under former Washington Head Coach, current Jaguars Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden.
“You know who those who those best players are, you know, and how we want to play and what we want to do so, you know, at the end of the day, you know, I've got to be able to, you know, field the team that I believe gives us the best chance to win and, and that's what that's what my role is and that's what that's what I’m, that's what I'm doing.”