After Brian Baldinger’s cryptic tweet hinted at a pending move that could see the Eagles get ‘a lot’ better in mid July, there has been plenty of speculation around who exactly he could be referencing. Yannick Ngakoue? Jadeveon Clowney? Jamal Adams? The Eagles would be right to have at least passing interest in all three, but what if the player in question is a little more subtle?
Losing Jordan Howard to the Dolphins is a tough pill to swallow, don’t get it twisted. Miles Sanders is clearly the face of the backfield moving forward and there is no way that the front office would bring in a 1-B running back. However, Howard was the perfect thunder to Sanders’ lightning skillset and the coaching staff has always insisted on (trying to) keeping that combination.
From LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement, to Jay Ajayi, and even Ryan Mathews, Pederson loves having a bigger back to run tenaciously between the tackles, especially in short-yardage situations. They lost that this offseason.
Beneath Sanders on the depth chart lies a plethora of intriguing options who could develop into that talent one day, but is it really fair to lean on UDFA’s like Michael Warren when there’s no OTA’s and training camp will look vastly different.
A lead back in Pederson’s scheme typically maxes out at 16 carries per game. When you add in all of the receptions Miles Sanders brings to the table as well, it makes even more sense to keep him well-conditioned and as explosive as possible.
The problem is, the Eagles don’t want to pay much more than a veteran’s minimum for a running back. I present to you – Leonard Forunette.
Taken before Patrick Mahomes, Christian McCaffrey and Deshaun Watson (well in Jags), Fournette has long been a perplexing player. He’s battled plenty of injuries (missed 11 games in his first two seasons) since departing LSU, been fined for sitting on a bench while inactive (??), and gotten into a boxing match with teammate Shaq Lawson. His maturity and work ethic have been called into question on several occasions, and the Jags then refused to pick up his fifth-year option, meaning that he will cost $8.6M this season before entering free agency next year.
On the field though, he’s part of a dying breed of running back that this offense craves. Fournette is a volume rusher who will wear down defenses by just pounding through holes relentlessly. As nasty and as physical as they come, he ended 2019 as the league’s seventh-highest rusher, racking up 1,152 yards. He’s tallied 1,215 scrimmage yards per year on average and has eight 100-yars rushing games since entering the NFL, with 17 career games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage…the most in Jags history.
Fournette’s career to date really is a tale of two halves. On one hand, he’s a dominant, arguably underrated running back with a less than ideal injury history. On the other, a player who has really struggled to acclimatize himself to life in the Jags organization which leads us to my next point.
The Jags have been trying to shop Fournette all offseason and it doesn’t help that they sniffed around Devonta Freeman and will likely do the same for Raheem Mostert. I loved Devine Ozigbo coming out of college and while he didn’t see much action last year, could well be in-line to step up if the team do move on from Fournette.
The fact that they’ve spent months trying to salvage any kind of value here is only going to drive the price down. It’s not like Ngakoue, who the Jags have leverage to keep as an arguably generational talent. This is a team trying to actively sell a player to a relatively quiet market. The Eagles don’t need Fournette, but if they want him, the price might begin falling ever so gently.
If the Eagles could pry away a top-10 running back for a mid-round selection (a little more than the sixth they gave up for Howard), who really says no? The Eagles have the immediate cap-room to swallow that hit and it’s the ultimate prove-it deal for a running back who is fighting to not only change a league-wide perception, but guarantee his long-term future, which likely wouldn’t be in Philadelphia anyway.
Fournette would be a great compliment to Miles Sanders, but is the price right?
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