JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars have declined to pick up the fifth-year option in running back Leonard Fournette’s rookie contract.
The decision Friday was no surprise because the team tried to trade Fournette over the last month. General manager Dave Caldwell had conversations with Tampa Bay and Miami, but neither made a worthwhile offer.
The deadline for teams to exercise the option is Monday. The Jaguars also signed veteran running back Chris Thompson to a one-year deal Friday, reuniting him with former Washington coach Jay Gruden. Gruden is entering his first year as Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator.
Thompson spent all eight of his NFL seasons with the Redskins, totaling nearly 3,000 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns.
Fournette is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is due to make $4.17 million in 2020. He will count $8.64 million against Jacksonville’s salary cap. The Jaguars would have taken on $4.47 million in dead money by trading him.
The former LSU star is coming off a career year. He topped 1,600 yards from scrimmage in 15 games last season, carrying 265 times for 1,152 yards and catching 76 passes for 522 yards.
The 25-year-old Fournette has 2,631 yards rushing, 1,009 yards receiving and 19 touchdowns in three seasons since now-fired personnel chief Tom Coughlin selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft.
Coughlin made Fournette the centerpiece of his old-school, run-first philosophy. It worked in 2017, although it became clear that Fournette needed to be a better pro. He landed in the doghouse for repeatedly being late and skipping mandatory functions.
Fournette’s tenure in Jacksonville took a turn in 2018, in which he had the worst season of his football life. He was injured, suspended and on the bench in crunch time. He was fined, criticized and admittedly not in ideal shape late in the year.
The Jaguars voided the remaining guarantees in his rookie contract following his one-game suspension for fighting with Buffalo linebacker Shaq Lawson, and Coughlin ripped him for being “disrespectful” and “selfish” for sitting on the bench — while injured and inactive — during the season finale. Adding to his woes, Fournette was arrested in April 2019 for driving with a suspended license.
He bounced back last year with his best season, but his frustration also was visible at times during games. There’s little doubt he will end up elsewhere in 2021.
With Coughlin gone and Jacksonville switching to a west coast offense under Gruden, the Jaguars don’t have a long-term need for a running back with a bruising running style and off-the-field red flags.