The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have slowly but surely done exactly what they wanted to do: make sure the band stays together for at least one more year. They've re-signed just about every important piece from last year's championship team, from Rob Gronkowski to Lavonte David to Chris Godwin. The two notable names they have yet to bring back, however, are Leonard Fournette and Antonio Brown.
It is anyone's guess what will happen with Brown. He managed to keep his head down and avoid making headlines for most of the 2020 season, but his redemption arc is far from completed and teams will approach him with caution. Fournette, however, is an entirely different story. He has none of the red flags that pepper Brown's immediate past and was more important for the Bucs last year. The man now self-dubbed as Lombardi Lenny ran for 367 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games for Tampa Bay. He cranked up the dial in the playoffs, rushing for 300 yards and three touchdowns on 64 attempts, including an 89-yard outing in the Super Bowl.
Fournette has not lived up to his billing as a former No. 3 overall pick and probably never will at this point. But he's a solid, bruising, between the tackles back who is tough to bring down and will wreak havoc on tired defenses. He should garner interest in this second stage of free agency now that the big names have all been signed. Here are four teams who could use his services.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Just because the Bucs haven't signed him yet doesn't mean they won't. Fournette wasn't crucial to their title run, but he sure was helpful in taking down the Packers in Green Bay and hammering a depleted Chiefs defense in the second half of Super Bowl LV. He seems well-liked within the organization and completely bought into his role as a rotational back after spending basically his entire life as The Man in whatever backfield he occupied. Fournette might not want to do that again, and he also probably wants to get paid more than the $2 million base salary he received last year. But if both sides can come to a middle ground on the salary numbers, Lombardi Lenny would likely be happy to reunite with Tom Brady.
New England Patriots
Let's reverse the trend here and have the Pats poach from the Bucs. The Patriots loaded up on blocking personnel this offseason by trading for the monstrous Trent Brown to fill in at right tackle and signing Jonnu Smith, one of the league's more athletic tight ends, to a big deal. Between those moves and the Cam Newton signing, New England looks like they're going to lean into the ground game again in 2021. The problem is they don't have a dangerous between-the-tackles back to rely upon. Sony Michel was that for the 2018 Super Bowl run but never regained his form and Damien Harris looks like he could be that if he can stay healthy, which he has not through two seasons. Fournette would fill that roll perfectly, has a chance to win games, and would receive a bigger paycheck than he would with Tampa given the Patriots still have a lot of room to work with even after their spending spree.
New York Jets
Perhaps more than anything else, the Jets need someone to run the damn ball. It isn't as crucial to their ability to win games as the decision they have to make at quarterback and the complete revamping of the secondary that is required, but the ancient and immortal Frank Gore ran the ball 187 times for the team last year. They can't do that again this year, and not only because it might actually kill Gore if they did. Having a capable running back takes a bit of pressure off whatever young quarterback the Jets trot out there next year and gives at least the appearance of a threatening run game. New York still has a lot of cap space to work with so the team could give Fournette a decently-sized deal and he would receive the lion's share of the carries. I mean, somebody has to run the ball, right?
The Cardinals are quickly becoming the favored home of veterans without one. Fournette didn't play for the Texans, but he can still play in Arizona. They lost Kenyan Drake to the Raiders as a part of Las Vegas' galaxy brain offseason and now only have Chase Edmonds to rely on, who is steady (and a Fordham great!) but not necessarily a three-down back. Fournette could take the first two downs as the big-bodied back while Edmonds takes the receiving back role. The Cardinals should be a good team and Kliff Kingsbury is creative enough to scheme up ways for Fournette to get into space with the ball in his hands. The Cardinals are loading up for 2021, so they may as well throw Fournette into the mix.