The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a flyer on Leonard Fournette once he got released by the Jacksonville Jaguars. And while the former first-round pick didn’t blow anyone away with his regular-season production, his magical postseason run earned him the nickname ‘Playoff Lenny.’
However, that version of Fournette only came into existence thanks to some brutal honesty from head coach Bruce Arians.
But after playing a significant role in helping bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Tampa for the first time in nearly two decades, ‘Playoff Lenny’ shouldn’t get too comfortable about remaining in the state of Florida.
Because based on the Buccaneers’ lengthy list of impending free agents, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Fournette playing elsewhere in 2021.
Leonard Fournette played a key role in bringing a Super Bowl title to Tampa
Although Leonard Fournette surpassed 1,000 rushing yards in two of his three seasons with the Jaguars, he never became the top-flight running back everyone expected when the AFC South franchise selected him with the No. 4 pick in the 2017 NFL draft.
Waived on Aug. 31, the former LSU star didn’t have to wait long to find a new NFL home. On Sep. 6, the Buccaneers signed the talented tailback to a one-year contract.
A 103-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2 provided an early glimpse at Fournette’s upside. However, he never surpassed the 100-yard mark again all season.
In fact, after averaging 222 carries across his first three years in the league, the 6-foot, 228-pounder only totaled 97 in 13 games with the Buccaneers.
Fournette’s lackluster regular-season production didn’t exactly inspire confidence in his ability to make a major impact in the postseason.
Yet, the complete opposite happened.
Showcasing the versatility and playmaking ability that made him an SEC legend, the 26-year-old New Orleans native earned the nickname ‘Playoff Lenny’ thanks to a brilliant postseason run that included scoring a touchdown in each of the Buccaneers’ four playoff victories.
But as we learned recently, that version of Fournette never would have existed without an interesting offer from Bruce Arians.
‘Playoff Lenny’ would never have existed without a surprising offer from Bruce Arians
By the time the final whistle blew in Super Bowl 55, Leonard Fournette had racked up 89 rushing yards, 46 receiving yards, and his fourth postseason touchdown.
Months earlier, however, no one could have predicted that the former Jaguars flameout would play such a huge role in winning a title. After all, the Buccaneers didn’t even activate Fournette for their Week 14 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.
Unhappy with his role with the team, he met with Bruce Arians the day after Tampa took down Kirk Cousins and Co.
During that encounter, Fournette’s head coach made the talented but enigmatic running back a very interesting offer.
“I said, ‘This is your situation. It can change at the drop of a hat,’” Arians told Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. “But this is your situation. Either embrace it, or you say, ‘Cut me.’ I said, ‘What do you want? Because this is a very special team that you’re part of. I think you’ve got a feeling of that. Just see if you can hang in there to see what happens.’ And he did, and I’m really proud of him.”
Faced with the decision to either get on board with the program or fire himself, Fournette obviously chose door No. 1, which turned out to be the best decision of his up-and-down career.
Rather than letting his attitude get in the way of his ability to contribute positively to the team, he bided his time until the playoffs came around. He responded by running for 300 yards on 64 carries. Fournette also caught 18 passes for 148 yards.
His consistent play in all facets of the game certainly made a major difference in the postseason. But does that necessarily mean the Buccaneers will bring him back?
Can the Buccaneers afford to re-sign the talented running back?
‘Playoff Lenny’ may have helped Tom Brady win his seventh Super Bowl ring, but that doesn’t mean Leonard Fournette will have a chance earn his second in as many seasons as a member of the Buccaneers.
Taking a look at Tampa’s impending free agents, general manager Jason Licht clearly has significant work to do to keep a championship roster intact.
On offense, Chris Godwin stands out as the most notable player in need of a new deal. Although he labored through an injury-riddled campaign, the 27-year-old should have a long list of suitors given his track record of production, age, and skill set.
But if another team offers the former third-rounder a contract averaging $18 million or more per season, he could very well be catching passes from a new quarterback in 2021.
More importantly, the Buccaneers will have to shell out big money to retain some of their top stars on the other side of the ball. Lavonte David and Shaquil Barrett should draw heavy interest and will certainly not be cheap to re-sign.
Although Licht and Arians want to bring everyone back, the economics may not allow that to happen. After all, Fournette’s stock has never been higher, which could make him an attractive option for teams seeking a true every-down running back.
In that case, the magic of ‘Playoff Lenny’ may result in the postseason star pricing himself out of Tampa.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.