Death. Taxes. The New England Patriots being linked to big-name free agents.
Whenever star players enter the open market, the Patriots are usually among the first teams to be reported as having expressed some form of interest in their services. Whether or not that interest is substantial, anything more than New England gauging the market, or not even real to begin with can be questioned each time, but Bill Belichick’s team has had its name attached to plenty of notable players through the years.
While some do actually end up in New England (see: Antonio Brown), others never catch that plane to Boston (see: Jadeveon Clowney). It remains to be seen in which category Leonard Fournette eventually ends up, but the fun has already started: according to reports by The Athletic’s Jeff Howe and CLNS Media’s Evan Lazar, the Patriots have reached out to Fournette’s camp to get a feel for the 25-year-old and his market.
Fournette is one of the higher-profile running backs in football. A former fourth-overall draft pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars, he is one of just seven players to average 100-plus yards from scrimmage per game since 2017, when the Jaguars selected him in the draft. All in all, the 6-foot-0, 230-pound back has 736 carries for 2,873 yards and 21 touchdowns on his 39-game résumé as well as 141 receptions for 1,053 yards and two more scores.
His talent cannot be denied, despite his unceremonious release earlier this week. And with him clearing the waiver wire untouched, New England might be in a good position to actually get Fournette on the cheap. This would not be the first time this has happened in 2020, of course: the club, for example, signed former league MVP and long-time Carolina Panthers starting quarterback Cam Newton to the veteran’s minimum in July.
Fournette’s situation is obviously different than Newton’s, but the Patriots could still find themselves with a chance to invest if the market starts developing to their liking.
At this point in time, however, their interest might be nothing more than due diligence. New England, after all, does have one of the deepest backfields in football even without the former first-rounder as part of the equation: Sony Michel and Damien Harris are projected to serve as the team’s top early-down options, with Rex Burkhead, Lamar Miller and possibly undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor as the change-of-pace runners. Add James White, one of the the best receiving backs in the NFL today, and you get a deep and talented group.
Fournette would certainly add intriguing potential to the position and a Patriots offense that runs a lot of the gap blocking that would fit his style of play, but there are only so many roster spots to invest in with cutdown day on the horizon. Unless New England is fully convinced that he will be a good addition, it would therefore be surprising to see the team actually make a move and bring him on board.
That being said, Belichick and company have never shied away from making the surprising transaction if the right value presented itself.