The Buccaneers front office was able to accomplish the nearly impossible by bringing back a majority of their free agents and all of their starters from the Super Bowl, including running back Leonard Fournette.
Fournette or “Lombardi Lenny” as he now is affectionately known, inked a one-year deal for $3.25 million after testing free agency.
If he has a 1,000-yard season in 2021, Fournette likely will cash in on a long-term deal for more money from a team – but likely not the Buccaneers. With the salary cap jumping by as much as $20 million in 2022 there will be a lot more money for teams to spend on a somewhat luxury position like running back.
But can Fournette cash in? Can Fournette even beat out Ronald Jones II in 2022 to get close to that benchmark 1,000-yard season that define top-tier running backs?
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Jones isn’t going to give up the job easily, and he is in a contract year also. Reaching 1,000 yards himself would be a big boost as he heads to free agency in 2022.
With all the attention that Fournette has received this offseason, Jones likely feels like the forgotten man.
“Hey guys, over here! I’m the dude who ran for 978 yards, averaged 5.1 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns in the regular season. You know, the dude who had a 98-yard TD run against Carolina and started 14 games last year.”
Jones isn’t going to just hand the job to him regardless of the way Fournette played down the stretch where he ran for 300 yards and three scores in the playoffs and Super Bowl LV. It was an impressive postseason without question, and the Buccaneers needed every yard Fournette gave them down the stretch.
But during the regular season Fournette was average at best. He did have one 100-yard game, a 103-yard effort in Week 2 against the Panthers but gained 46 yards on a single carry. And in the 13 regular season games he played in, Fournette averaged more than 4.0 yards a carry in just twice.
Who can forget that stellar, seven-carry, 15-yard effort against the Broncos? Someone cue up the ESPN highlights of that amazing five-carry, five-yard season opener against the Saints last year. And how about his healthy scratch in Week 14 against the Vikings? Fournette was almost cut by the team late in the season due to his attitude.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and NFL ref – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“I said, ‘This is your situation. It can change at the drop of a hat,'” Arians told Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times of his meeting with Fournette. “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.”
Fortunately for the Buccaneers and for Fournette, the disgruntled running back chose to stick around. And it worked out well for everyone involved. Jones wound up missing games due to being placed on the COVID-19 list and also suffering a broken finger and a leg injury in January. Fournette took full advantage of his opportunity.
Hats off to Fournette for showing growth and maturity. A younger Fournette probably storms out of Arians’ office and never becomes Lombardi Lenny.
Now that he is back he knows it will be a battle for the starting job.
“Going into camp, we’ll have to compete. Nothing’s promised to anyone,” Fournette said. “I’ve been here before and I understand about competing. It’s just like college, you know what I mean? Just right now, we’re just training, getting our bodies right. Coming in, we’re going to have to start all over and compete for that starting job. It’s going to be a great one.”
Two running backs in their prime.
A pair of running backs heading into free agency in 2022.
Two running backs trying to cash in.
Let the battle begin.
Table of Contents
• Last week Jon Ledyard got into a text conversation about the best football announcers on television. We started out discussing FOX Sports college football announcer Gus Johnson. Personally I can’t stand him. He tries to make a middle of the second quarter, four-yard Michigan versus Northwestern pass completion sound like Joe Montana to Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC Championship game.
Gross. Take it down a notch, Gus.
That led us to discussing the greats of my youth. Now I’m 20 years older than Ledyard, so he didn’t get to hear all the greats of the 1970s and ’80s like myself and fellow old-timer Scott Reynolds were able to hear in their prime.
NBC had Dick Enberg, Don Criqui, Charlie Jones and others. CBS had Lindsey Nelson, Hank Stram, Vin Scully (yes, he also did football) and even Vern Lundquist. Then CBS later on the magical duo of Pat Summerall and John Madden. And who can forget ABC, home of Monday Night Football with Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford Don Meredith followed by the great Al Michaels?
NBC’s Al Michaels – Photo by: USA Today
In today’s football world, I still think Michaels is one of the best. I don’t hate Joe Buck and Troy Aikman like so many others do. And while I don’t care too much for Jim Nantz, having the pleasure of listening to the best color analyst in the business, Tony Romo, makes the voice of Nantz bearable.
Did I mention how much I miss Keith Jackson on ABC’s Saturday college football broadcasts?
• Congratulations to the Panthers for trading for former Jets QB Kevin Arnold. He was one of my favorite television characters ever. Loved him on The Wonder Years.
Wait, what’s that you say? It was Sam Darnold? Not Kevin Arnold who Carolina trade for? Oops, my bad.
The New York Jets letterman jacket That Kevin Arnold wore in the Wonder Years is now in the Smithsonian. The show technically didn’t take place in any particular city, although clearly filmed in CA, so I guess Kevin was just a big Broadway Joe Fan. pic.twitter.com/qOj2gFEdwk
In all honesty the Panthers might have been better off trading for Kevin Arnold. Darnold hasn’t shown me very much. Of course Adam Gase can ruin a quarterback about as well as anyone in NFL history. And just think, the Jets fired Todd Bowles for Gase.
Read Leonard Founette’s comment on Lavonte David’s Instagram post.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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