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Should the Jaguars exercise Leonard Fournette’s fifth-year option?

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With the bell-cow running back entering the fourth year of his contract, the Jaguars will have a decision to make on Leonard Fournette’s fifth-year option

Jacksonville Jaguars v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

As a first round pick in 2017, Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette is eligible for a fifth-year option — a year added to his already four-year contract —, to be picked up by the team at their discretion in May of this year.

For the Jaguars, they have picked up the fifth-year option for players two other times — once in 2017 (Blake Bortles) and another time in 2019 (Jalen Ramsey). Neither player are with the team currently and neither player ultimately played on their respective option years (Bortles was extended before the option kicked in).

For a player selected in the top 10 of the NFL Draft, the value of their fifth-year fully-guaranteed (for injury only) option year is equal to the value of the transition tag at their respective position. As a running back, Fournette’s option will be equal to the running back transition tag value for 2020 — a predicted $10,189,000 according to OverTheCap.com.

The projected salary would be ~$1.5M raise on his $8,638,917 cap figure for 2020.

If the Jaguars decide to exercise the option, Fournette would account for that figure during the 2021 season, allowing the team to have an extra year of his services. Jacksonville would however, have the ability to release Fournette before the 2021 season owing him nothing more than his original four-year deal, barring a debilitating injury. A debilitating injury would mean Fournette could not pass a physical upon his release.

Why the Jaguars may pick up Fournette’s option:

Entering this season, the answer of electing to stick with Fournette for any longer than his four-year rookie deal was an obvious no.

This season, Fournette had a breakout year accounting for 1674 total yards (32.7% of the team’s total yardage output in the 15 games Fournette played this season), including 1152 rushing yards (4.3 YPC), 76 receptions for 522 yards, and three touchdowns in 15 games. The Jaguars offense was essentially run through Fournette throughout the season for better or worse.

If the team decides to pick up his fifth-year option it would give them control over any contract negotiations with him for an extra year, and give the team an ability to deal (read: trade) Fournette if necessary following the 2020 season, recouping value as opposed to simply allowing him to walk in free agency.

Fournette’s turnaround season could convince the franchise to elect to pick up the option of their bell-cow back, especially given the growth and maturity that he made over the course of the 2019 season.

Why the Jaguars may not pick up Fournette’s option:

Considering the former LSU Tiger’s previous two seasons and relative disappointment, the team may be hesitant to continue with Fournette beyond just his four-year rookie contract. Until this season, the Jaguars running back missed 11 games, including eight during his second season, rushing for an average of 3.6 yards-per-carry over two years. Fournette has yet to play a full 16-game season.

While the running back had a turnaround season this year, his attitude away from the gridiron in the past could be something the team keeps in mind for a potential extension.

Wear and tear on a running back in the NFL is one of the primary concerns most franchises have with running backs in today’s NFL, especially considering the turnaround of young rushers excelling.

Since being drafted, Fournette has accrued 800 touches — the fifth most in the NFL since 2017. Only running backs, Joe Mixon (801), Todd Gurley (912), Christian MCCaffrey (926), and Ezekiel Elliott (1004) have had more.

The Jaguars may not want to shell out ~$10M in cap space for a running back in 2021, opting to use the resources on another position or player(s).

The team may avoid the option entirely and make a decision on whether or not to extend Fournette when his contract ultimately runs out after the 2020 season. A deal similar to the one Falcons running back Devonta Freeman signed in 2017 ($8.25 per-year average salary) is a possibility.

Regardless, the Jaguars will have a decision to make in the coming months. Will Fournette’s turnaround season change the team’s mind regarding his value or will they simply let him walk after the 2020 season?