This move shouldn't have come as a surprise, as the team placed Fournette on the trade block before the 2020 NFL Draft and declined his fifth-year option shortly after. And while he was a workhorse back for Jacksonville in the past, there were already signs this wouldn't be the case in 2020.
Now that he is off the roster, the Jaguars' backfield will look very different in 2020, and Leonard Fournette will be in need of a new home.
Why this happened
While there are likely some behind-the-scenes reasons, his release can also be justified by his on-the-field play.
His fantasy production in 2019 was all from quantity instead of quality — his fantasy points per snap (0.29) was actually the lowest of the 60 RB1 seasons over the last five years. And it wasn't only this past season when Fournette got his fantasy production from volume — among the 31 running backs with at least 500 attempts over the last four years (postseason included), Fournette's 66.1 rushing grade ranked 30th while his 2.71 yards after contact per attempt ranked just 18th.
The Jaguars aren't expected to have a winning record this year, so if they weren't planning on keeping him beyond this year and he wasn't going to help them win this year, then it doesn't make sense to keep him on the roster.
What this means for Jacksonville
The Jaguars added Chris Thompson this offseason to take over the third-down snaps. Thompson, after all, had earned the trust of Jay Gruden — Jacksonville's new offensive coordinator — during their time together in Washington.
Thompson averaged over 40 catches over the last five seasons. And while this alone wouldn't make him a great fantasy option, he has also been a star in red-zone drills for Jacksonville this training camp. If Thompson can get both the red-zone touches as well as the third-down targets, he is the most attractive option in this backfield.
Thompson had been considered an undervalued pick earlier in the offseason, but because he is less than two months away from his 30th birthday and has never been an every-down back in the league, his upside is somewhat limited. He could have a role similar to that of James White and Tarik Cohen, but he should be drafted a little later than these two pass-catching standouts, just because he's not quite as good.
Jacksonville also has 2019 fifth-round pick Ryquell Armstead and 2019 undrafted free agent Devine Ozigbo on the roster. They had 150 and 30 snaps, respectively, last year, and both finished with grades below 60.0. It's unclear which of the two will end up with more playing time this year, but they should share the first- and second-down snaps.
Armstead has the advantage of being drafted and played more snaps last year, though he started the season on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, which opened the door for Ozigbo. Per reports, Ozigbo impressive with those snaps. Both players are worthy of a late-round flier, as either could take over the backfield and see the majority of snaps.
It's also a possibility that Jacksonville could trade for a running back or pick one up in free agency. Players such as Royce Freeman of the Denver Broncos or Tevin Coleman of the San Francisco 49ers are players who are expected to see less playing time than they did last year and could potentially be available via trade. Devonta Freeman has also been a possibility for a few teams this offseason and is still available.
What this means for Fournette
Chances are Fournette will be able to find a new team before the start of the season, but he'll struggle to find one that would give him as much opportunity as Jacksonville was projected to. One possibility is the Jets, who have seen a number of their backup running backs go down with injuries, and their trade for Kalen Ballage was never finalized. There he would need to compete for carries with Le' Veon Bell and Frank Gore.
New England is a possibility, too, as Lamar Miller is still on the PUP list and Sony Michel has been battling injury. Chicago is another, given its recent injury scare with David Montgomery and the fact that the team doesn't have as much depth in the backfield. It would again be a place where he would likely be a backup.
Unless a running back gets hurt, Fournette's best opportunities would be as a role player competing for more playing time. Because of that, he could be a late-round flier in fantasy in 2020.