Jaguars head into offseason with offensive makeup on horizon
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars built their offense around a player who played less than 30 percent of the snaps this season.
Running back Leonard Fournette was injured, suspended and on the bench in crunch time. He was fined, criticized and admittedly not in ideal shape late in the year.
Fournette was more of a problem than a pro.
And now the Jaguars (5-11) have to decide what to do with the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft. It’s one of the main questions Jacksonville faces as it heads into an offseason that will be focused on revamping an offense that ranked 31st in the league in scoring.
Coach Doug Marrone confirmed Monday that the team has voided the remaining guarantees in Fournette’s four-year rookie contract worth $27.1 million. The team made the move following Fournette’s weeklong suspension in late November. Fournette still could challenge the decision, which could cost him up to $7.1 million.
At the very least, Fournette is now at risk of being cut or traded. No one would be surprised to see either happen after Sunday’s season finale at Houston.
Fournette and fellow running back T.J. Yeldon spent most of the 20-3 loss on the bench and disengaged from coaches and teammates. Fournette was inactive because of foot and ankle injuries; Yeldon was active but did not play.
“It’s disappointing what occurred the other day,” Marrone said Monday. “We have taken care of it from a disciplinary standpoint, but like what I’ve always told you, those things remain between the club and the player.”
Personnel chief Tom Coughlin ripped both players for being “disrespectful” and “selfish.”
“Their behavior was unbecoming of a professional football player,” Coughlin said in a statement.
Fournette has missed 11 games in two seasons because of injuries and suspensions. The former LSU star ran for 439 yards and five touchdowns in eight games this season after running for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie.
But he also was suspended one game in 2017 for leaving early during the bye week and suspended a week without pay for leaving the bench, running across the field and instigating a fight with Buffalo defensive end Shaq Lawson on Nov. 25. Fournette lost nearly $100,000 in salary during the weeklong suspension. It could cost him considerably more if the Jaguars decided to cut him with no guaranteed money remaining.
“I definitely pride myself on trying to help some of the younger guys develop,” veteran defensive end Calais Campbell said. “I do believe that he’s a good person at heart and wants to be a good player. This is a unique situation, but I believe that he’s going to continue to mature and hopefully be who we need him to be.”
Jaguars owner Shad Khan opted to keep Coughlin, Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell intact for 2019 , giving them a chance to fix the team’s problems. Jacksonville finished last in the AFC South after making the conference championship game last January, a freefall that could be blamed mostly on offensive injuries and ineptitude.
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was fired in November, creating one opening Marrone still has to fill. Quarterback Blake Bortles, who regressed in his fifth season and was benched, expects to be released before March.
“When things don’t go well, a lot of it falls on the quarterback’s shoulders,” Bortles said. “I know that and signed up for that and have no problem with it, whether it’s a scapegoat or whatever you want to call it, somebody’s got to take the blame when things don’t go well. I think Nathaniel was one of those guys. I think I’m one of those guys. And I think other guys on this team were part of that as well.”
Right tackle Jermey Parnell, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and running back Carlos Hyde could join Bortles in the free-agent market. Yeldon, receiver Donte Moncrief, right guard A.J. Cann and running back Corey Grant are soon-to-be free agents. So are eight reserve offensive linemen.
So numerous changes are coming for Jacksonville’s offense.
And now Fournette’s future looks as wobbly as one of Bortles’ passes.
“Availability, coachability and scheme,” Marrone said when asked about the offensive makeover ahead. “When I talk about that, we have to do a better job with the players we have available. We have to do a better job if those players don’t become available, what we’re going to do next. I think that’s an important thing when we look at it, and I think that was a mistake that I made this year.”