The Jaguars waived two-time 1,000-yard running back Leonard Fournette Monday, a move that surprised many observers – and one that Head Coach Doug Marrone said occurred for football reasons and a desire to get the most production from the position.
« At the end of the day, I just felt it was the best decision for us as a team, » Marrone said.
Fournette, the No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, was told of the move by Marrone early Monday morning in what Marrone called a « good, very professional » meeting. It also came one day after multiple reliable media sources reported that the Jaguars will trade former Pro Bowl defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to the Minnesota Vikings.
Marrone said the moves were unrelated, also addressing speculation among observers that the team was trying to improve its position in the 2021 NFL Draft by underperforming this season.
« If that happens, then I’m not going to be here, » Marrone said. « If I don’t win enough games or do enough with this team, I don’t foresee me still being employed. So, I’m doing everything I can to make sure we have the best team to win football games. That’s as simple as I can be on it. »
Marrone spoke extensively of Fournette’s release in a Monday morning videoconference with the media – and said he had encouraged scouts and coaches to evaluate players in 2020 Training Camp without regard to past performance, draft status or reputation.
« We’re really just trying to take the team and put the best team together for what we’ve seen in our practices, » Marrone said. « I think it gives us the best opportunity with the skillsets we have, with the other players in there. I just thought that was the best for the team….
« I challenged everyone around me, ‘Let’s go off what we see. Let’s take names, take draft picks, off the table. Let’s put them on the field and see who the best players are.’ That was my goal. That was my responsibility and that’s what I feel I’m doing. »
The Jaguars explored trading Fournette before and during the 2020 NFL Draft in April, and in May declined to pick up the fifth-year option for his contract for the 2021 season. Marrone said Fournette’s release came after exhausting « all trade opportunities. »
« We weren’t able to get anything there, » Marrone said. « I just felt now we can work on the team, the plan and get ourselves ready for the season. … At the end of the day, I’ve got to be able to field a team that I believe gives us the best chance to win. That’s what my role is. That’s what I’m doing. »
Fournette early during his three seasons with the Jaguars had multiple off-field issues, missing a game as a rookie for disciplinary reasons and serving a one-game suspension the next season because of his involvement in a fight during a game in Buffalo.
He had no such issues last season, with Marrone saying the move « strictly has to do on the field. »
Fournette, after rushing for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games in the Jaguars’ 2017 AFC South title season, played just eight games in 2018 because of injuries and finished that season with 439 yards and five touchdowns. He rushed for 1,152 yards and three touchdowns last season.
The Jaguars now have five running backs: second-year veteran Ryquell Armstead, seven-year veteran Chris Thompson, second-year veteran Devine Ozigbo, rookie free agent Nathan Cottrell and rookie free agent James Robinson. The group’s career NFL totals: 1,229 yards rushing and five touchdowns – with Thompson accounting for 1,194 yards and all five touchdowns.
« We have guys that have really good skill sets that have really had good camps, » Marrone said. « Now, we’re able to hone in on that and really work on that. When people say, ‘Why now?’ that’s why. We can hone in and get that thing right going into the season.
« I just feel the skillset of the guys we have, being used the right way, will be able to give us more production and give us a better opportunity to win games. That’s exactly what I feel and it’s exactly what I’ve seen on tape. »
Marrone also on Monday addressed the Ngakoue trade, saying he had no issues with Ngakoue and that he hopes Ngakoue is pleased with the move. The Jaguars early in the offseason placed the franchise tag on Ngakoue after the sides could not agree to a long-term contract. They reportedly will receive a second-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft from the Vikings and a conditional 2022 selection.
« If he’s happy, then I’m happy for him, » Marrone said, adding that he absolutely is happy with the direction of the team two days after the end of 2020 Training Camp and 13 days before the regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts at TIAA Bank Field.
« I can tell you this: I’m super-excited about this team, » Marrone said. « I’m excited about the young guys. I’m excited about the older guys, the guys we have on this team. I think it’s close. I think they communicate well. … I’m actually fired up. I really am. »
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