Bucs, Leonard Fournette agree to 3-year, $21 million contract

The sides came to terms Monday night after the former LSU running back visited the Patriots.
Running back Leonard Fournette (7) agreed to terms with the Bucs on a three-year, $21 million contract Monday night.
Running back Leonard Fournette (7) agreed to terms with the Bucs on a three-year, $21 million contract Monday night. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Mar. 22, 2022|Updated Mar. 22, 2022

TAMPA ― He’s now Paid Off Lenny.

Shortly after completing a visit with the New England Patriots on Monday night, running back Leonard Fournette agreed to terms with the Bucs on a three-year, $21 million contract.

Fournette, 27, had the best overall season of his career in 2021, rushing for 812 yards and eight touchdowns while catching 69 passes for 454 yards and and two scores.

Fournette tweeted last week that he deserved to be paid among the top five running backs in the NFL.

“I know what I want it’s going to take time but I also believe for these last 2 years I’ve played like a top 5 back, so I’m just trusting God and enjoying this time grinding and with my family,” Fournette wrote.

The five highest-paid running backs are the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey ($16 million average), Saints’ Alvin Kamara ($15 million) Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott ($15 million), Vikings’ Dalvin Cook ($12.6 million) and Titans’ Derrick Henry ($12.5 million).

Obviously, Fournette learned his market value was much less than that. When you factor in that quarterback Tom Brady likely wanted him back with the Bucs, the visit with the Patriots probably helped the deal get done Monday night.

Fournette was signed by the Bucs before the 2020 season after he was released by the Jaguars and cleared waivers. He sat behind Ronald Jones for much of the season, as the Bucs’ starting running back was on his way to a near-1,000-yard season before missing two games with COVID-19.

Fournette was inactive for a game against the Vikings in December 2020 and nearly released by coach Bruce Arians. But when Jones pulled a quad muscle in warmups before the wild-card game at Washington, Fournette took over. In four playoff games, Fournette rushed 64 times for 300 yards and three touchdowns and added 18 receptions for 148 yards and a score.

That earned Fournette the nickname Playoff Lenny and then Lombardi Lenny, after his 16 carry, 89-yard, one-touchdown performance in the Bucs’ 31-9 win over the Chiefs in Super Bowl 55.

The Bucs needed to fortify the running back position. Jones is likely to move on. Ke’Shawn Vaughn is under contract, but the Bucs could use another pass-catching back like Giovani Bernard, who is a free agent.

Fournette missed the final three games of the 2021 regular season, as well as the wild-card playoff win over Philadelphia, with a hamstring injury.

During his brief career with the Bucs, Fournette played under a pair of below-market, “prove-it” deals. He earned a base salary of $2.5 million in 2020 and $3.5 million in 2021. His average salary in 2022 will exceed those earnings combined.

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The Bucs have locked up many of their most valuable free agents, reaching agreements with receiver Chris Godwin, cornerback Carlton Davis, center Ryan Jensen and now Fournette, while losing guard Alex Cappa (Bengals) and safety Jordan Whitehead (Jets).

The Bucs also added Falcons receiver Russell Gage and Giants safety Logan Ryan and traded for Patriots guard Shaq Mason.

The team’s focus will continue to be on retaining its own remaining free agents, a list that includes tight end Rob Gronkowski, defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and William Gholston, and quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

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