Sports

Jaguars Cut Star Player In Surprise Move

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The Jaguars moved another step closer to purging Tom Coughlin’s tumultuous tenure in Jacksonville.

The team waived running back Leonard Fournette on Monday, a stunning decision many outsiders view as the latest in a series of head-scratchers that could help the franchise tank the season and get the No. 1 draft pick.

“If that’s the case, then the realization is if that happens, then I’m not going to be here,” coach Doug Marrone said. “At the end of the day, if I don’t win enough games or do enough with this team, I don’t foresee me still being employed. I’m doing everything I can to make sure we have the best team to make sure we win football games. That’s as simple as I can be on it.”

Coughlin wanted Fournette as the centerpiece of his old-school, run-first philosophy. It worked in 2017, although it became clear that Fournette needed to be a better pro. He was fined repeatedly for being late and skipping mandatory functions.

The Jaguars spent months trying to trade Fournette, the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft who’s coming off a career year. He was on the block during the NFL draft and again over the summer.

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“We couldn’t get anything, a fifth, a sixth, anything,” Marrone said.

So they dumped the 25-year-old former LSU star one day after trading former Pro Bowl defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to Minnesota in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 2021 and a conditional fifth-rounder in 2020.

Jacksonville also traded Jalen Ramsey, fellow cornerback A.J. Bouye and defensive end Calais Campbell in the last 10 months.

“It’s going to fall to me as to who those best players are,” Marrone said. “At the end of the day, I’ve got to be able to field a team that I believe gives us the best chance to win. That’s what my role is and that’s what I’m doing.”

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Still, no one expected Jacksonville to part ways with Fournette less than two weeks before the opener.

He is due $4.17 million in guaranteed salary this season if someone claims him. If he clears waivers, he would become a free agent.

Jacksonville voided all the remaining guarantees in his rookie deal in December 2018, so Fournette would need to file a grievance to get any money from the Jags in 2020.

Fournette’s time in Jacksonville took a turn in 2018, which ended up being the worst season of his football life. He was injured, suspended and on the bench in crunch time. He was fined, criticized and admittedly not in ideal shape late in the year.

The Jaguars voided his guarantees following his one-game suspension for fighting with Buffalo linebacker Shaq Lawson, and Coughlin ripped him for being “disrespectful” and “selfish” for sitting on the bench — while injured and inactive — during the season finale.

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Adding to the chaos, Fournette was arrested in April 2019 for driving with a suspended license.

He bounced back last year with his best season. He topped 1,600 yards from scrimmage in 15 games, carrying 265 times for 1,152 yards and catching 76 passes for 522 yards. He scored only three touchdowns. He also fumbled just once in 341 touches.

Fournette has 2,631 yards rushing, 1,009 yards receiving and 19 touchdowns in three seasons since he was now-fired personnel chief Coughlin’s first draft pick since returning to Jacksonville. But with Coughlin gone, general manager Dave Caldwell put Fournette on the block and declined to pick up the fifth-year option in his rookie deal.

Marrone insisted Fournette did nothing to prompt his release, instead pointing to his fit in coordinator Jay Gruden’s new scheme.

“It strictly has to do with on the field,” he said.

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