On Monday, the Jacksonville Jaguars released running back Leonard Fournette, and one destination that he has been rumored to go is Pittsburgh. Many pundits believe the Steelers are a great fit for him due to their apparent need and history of powerful running backs. However, the Steelers picking up Fournette would be a terrible decision for the organization.
A few seasons ago, the Jaguars looked like one of the best up and coming teams, and their running game with Fournette played a big part in that. The Jaguars had a suffocating defense and were able to control games by pounding the rock and chewing up the clock. Ball possession is extremely important in the NFL and the Jaguars did that. This is important because when a team can control the game and take the ball out of the opposition’s hand, the odds of winning are higher.
The past two seasons, however, have not gone as planned for Fournette and the Jaguars. Two losing seasons have set them back to square one, and Fournette has had some injury problems. While he did bounce back last season, rushing for 1,152 yards, there is still a bit of concern on the injury front.
The question is, why did the Jaguars release him then? Fournette was expecting to make around four million dollars this season, and with the Jaguars trying to tank once again they did not want his contract on their books. Also, there are reports that he could be a locker room distraction.
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler said, “But there are some character concerns. He’s had some issues with coaches there in Jacksonville. So I’m told, from people who have worked with him, if you go into a new locker room, there could be some problems, potentially.” Although there are reported character concerns, Fournette still has top 10 running back potential which may bring some team calling.
The Steelers, however, will not be one of those teams. After a season in which lead back James Conner took a huge step back and could not stay healthy it makes sense why people are expecting Fournette to land in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, that will not happen as it is just not realistic.
The first reason it cannot happen is that the Steelers currently only have four million in cap space. Fournette just is not affordable to the team, especially with big names like Cam Heyward, Juju Smith-Schuster, Conner and many others having to work out contracts with the Steelers this coming offseason. These players are much more important to the Steelers than Leonard Fournette would be.
Another reason Fournette will not be heading to Pittsburgh is that the Steelers feel comfortable with the running backs they currently have. While much of the public is not convinced in Conner, the Steelers are expecting him to bounce back. In addition to Conner, they are very high on Benny Snell Jr. and rookie Anthony McFarland Jr. With coach Mike Tomlin feeling that they could use these backs in different phases of the game, it just does not make sense where Fournette fits in.
Conner is the lead, all-around, back. Snell can come in, pound the rock and close a game out. He is a bruiser whose style of play is affectionately known as “Benny Snell football.” McFarland is the speed back and has potential to become a Ben Roethlisberger check-down favorite. He has game breaking speed which the Steelers have lacked out of the backfield since Willie Parker.
Finally, the character concerns alone likely rule out the Steelers. This past season was the first without Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell being associated with the team. Those two, mostly Brown, caused a lot of problems in the locker room and the Steelers are trying to clean out controversy and have a team that gets along well. It would not make sense to bring in a player who may cause locker room problems.
While Fournette is a very good player, and could help a team with a need for a running back, he will not be in Pittsburgh in 2020. He would not fit the current build of the Steelers roster at all and monetarily it just would not work out. The Steelers will roll into the season with Conner, Snell, McFarland and likely Jaylen Samuels. Will this be a mistake, maybe, but that is something which could be discussed after the season.