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Leonard Fournette

With Fournette Back, Bucs Could Still Be in Market for RB

  • Justin Melo
  • March 22, 2022
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According to multiple reports, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have re-signed running back Leonard Fournette to a three-year contract worth $21 million with $9 million in guarantees. Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht allowed Fournette’s market to slowly reveal itself before ultimately reaching a lucrative long-term extension that rightfully keeps Fournette in Tampa Bay for the foreseeable future. Fournette previously made a free agent visit to Foxboro as Bill Belichick attempted to woo Fournette to New England but bringing Playoff Lenny back in the wake of Tom Brady’s triumphant return always made a ton of sense for this Buccaneers team and Licht has ultimately checked that box.

The No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Fournette first emerged as Tampa’s unlikely hero by playing a crucial role in their dreamy 2020 postseason run by amassing an electric 135 total yards in the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl LV triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs. Fournette swiftly reached an agreement on a one-year deal to return to the Buccaneers for a second season and the low-risk, high-reward “prove-it” deal paid dividends for a shrewd Buccaneers franchise. Fournette proved his electric playoff performances weren’t an outlier but rather a preview of what was yet to come. Fournette was extremely consistent in 2021 by accounting for 1,266 total yards (812 rushing and 454 receiving) while matching a career-high 10 touchdowns.

The Buccaneers may still add to their running back room via the 2022 NFL Draft but Fournette’s continued presence helps steady the ship. Fellow running back Ronald Jones remains an  unrestricted free agent and is unlikely to return to the Buccaneers next season. Fournette is currently joined on the roster by the underperforming Ke’Shawn Vaughn and unproven Kenjon Barner. It’s a strong indication that Licht isn’t done addressing the position.

As excellent as Fournette has been in Tampa Bay’s effective backfield, the former Jacksonville Jaguar still does his best work when utilized as a rotational ball-carrier in a two-or-three back system that also employs a high-level pass catcher. Fournette has proven capable of handling third-down work in recent showings but it’s occurred out of sheer necessity more-so than desire. Licht would be wise to secure the services of such a player in the third-or-fourth round, where the Buccaneers currently own one selection per round. The Buccaneers don’t have a fifth-or-sixth round pick as things stand, so Licht may have to address this need on Day 2.

Georgia’s James Cook could be identified as an ideal target. Cook made the most of his new-found opportunity in 2021 as a Bulldog by recording career-highs in receptions (27), receiving yards (284) and total touchdowns (11). The brother of Dalvin Cook, the younger Cook further enhanced his draft stock at the Combine by testing exceptionally well. Cook ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds after leaping to a 33-inch vertical and 124-inch broad jump. Georgia consistently deployed Cook in obvious passing situations and the Miami, Florida native handled all duties with relative ease. Cook showcases the ability to catch passes out of the backfield, flex out wide and into the slot. Cook runs excellent routes and is an easy separator from man coverage. He’s a natural hands-catcher that plucks and secures the ball away from his frame. Pairing Cook with Fournette would provide the Buccaneers with the one-two backfield punch they were hoping to achieve when Licht drafted Vaughn in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

The Buccaneers look like strong candidates to win the Super Bowl for the second time in three campaigns in 2022 largely due to Brady’s return after a short-lived retirement, paired with Licht’s other movements (trading for Shaq Mason is low-key one of the best acquisitions made by any team this offseason). Welcoming Fournette back into the fold is an underrated decision that has greatly increased their chances of reigning supreme once again. Pairing him with a rookie back that’s more capable of handling third down duties such as Cook would maximize the efficiency of all parties involved.

Get your popcorn ready, Bucs fans. Playoff Lenny is back!

Written By

Justin Melo