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At the end of a rough season in Jacksonville, it became increasingly apparent the relationship between the team and running back Leonard Fournette had become fractious. A few days ago, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone confirmed the Jaguars have acted to void guarantees within Fournette's rookie contract following the latest in a series of troubling incidents.
Naturally, these events have fuelled speculation that the Jaguars will look to sever ties with Fournette with Jay Glazer recently reporting they might be looking to blow up their roster. With the Jets expected to target Le'Veon Bell in the offseason, some have suggested that Fournette could be a lower-cost alternative, or at least a viable fall-back plan, as they look to upgrade their running back position. However, there are reasons to believe the Jets should look elsewhere.
On the face of it, Fournette could provide the Jets with the youth and star potential they so desperately need. He's a former top-five draft pick who was a 1,000-yard rusher and scored 10 touchdowns in his rookie season. He had five 100-yard rushing games that year, three more than the Jets as a team managed in 2018. While he wasn't as productive in Year 2, some would attribute that to the fact he was banged-up and played most of his games while the team was struggling badly.
However, the fact Fournette was hurt for much of last year is part of the reason why he'd be a risky proposition for the Jets. As a draft prospect, scouts had many concerns with Fournette's durability, and those issues have resurfaced at the pro level. Fournette only played one game in between Week 1 and Week 10, as coaches reportedly grew frustrated with the duration of his rehabilitation from a hamstring injury.
There is also the question of his off-field issues. In addition to concerns over his conditioning, Fournette angered coaches when he was sitting on the bench seemingly disinterested in the game at the end of the season. That came after he had been suspended after being ejected for fighting in a game against the Bills.
The success of players like James Conner and Phillip Lindsay this season has shown why many experts don't believe in investing high picks or salaries into running backs when teams can potentially find a low-cost alternative that could be almost as productive, if not more.
However, Bell is different because of what he brings to the passing game. While Fournette has 58 catches in two years, he's little more than a dump-off option. Bell, on the other hand, can run routes and get open down the field, which would make him a valuable weapon, especially with the proliferation of empty sets in the modern game. He's also adept at handling blitz pick-up assignments. The added value he would bring would help a young quarterback like Sam Darnold in a way Fournette could not.
Two high-profile backs may be options for the Jets this offseason, so: Le'Veon or Leonard? pic.twitter.com/LDGUFuqhvm- SNY (@SNYtv) January 3, 2019
The Jets' desperation to surround Darnold with talented playmakers is understandable, but the 2018 season showed allocating resources to ensuring the team is more effective in the trenches would also be wise. While skeptics would point to the low yards-per-carry averages for the likes of Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon as a sign that they need to upgrade at the running back position, it became evident over the course of the season the run blocking was the primary factor in this because there were so many plays where there simply wasn't any running room.
While Bell might be able to overcome this with his trademark patient running style, Fournette seemed to prove this year that he is less capable of that, as he only averaged 3.3 yards per carry, having only averaged 3.9 as a rookie.
If the Jets were to acquire Fournette via trade, although the salary over the next two seasons would no longer be guaranteed, it would exceed what they are scheduled to pay Isaiah Crowell anyway when coupled with the dead money they would suffer by cutting ties with Crowell. Although Crowell had his own durability issues this year, he has been much more durable than Fournette in the past and has had similar levels of production, so it would be risky to assume Fournette would bring an instant upgrade, especially if they're surrendering valuable draft capital to acquire him.
As for Bell, it would be a high price to pay, but his versatility and star power could make it worthwhile. If the Jets are unable to sign him, there are better ways to ensure an improved running game in 2019 than spending assets on a player like Fournette with so many red flags.