Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette has missed the last two games, and counting. And the Jaguars may not be counting on Fournette as the season continues to unfold.
The decision to send a 2019 fifth-round pick to Cleveland for running back Carlos Hyde gives the Jags a player whom they undoubtedly intend to keep on the roster for the balance of the season. His $1.5 million salary is fully guaranteed ($970,588 of it remains unpaid), and the investment of the mid-round pick surely wasn’t made for a few-week rental.
The bigger question becomes whether Hyde will remain with the team beyond 2019. Given that they could have drafted a running back (and possibly a good one) in round five with the pick sent to Cleveland, the move to add Hyde could be an indication that the Jaguars are willing to let T.J. Yeldon, a second-round pick in 2015, walk away via free agency. Yeldon has averaged more than five yards per carry in each of the three starts he’s made for Fournette this year, but he gained only 52 yards on 18 carries in a Week Four win over the Jets, an average of 2.9 yards per attempt.
And if/when Yeldon leaves, the Jaguars may get credit toward a compensatory pick or two in 2020. (Or, if a more immediate return is possible, they could trade him at some point in the next 10 days.)
It’s also possible that, before trading for Hyde, the Jaguars tried to extend Yeldon’s contract, and that Yeldon simply wanted too much. And so the Jaguars instead have Hyde under contract for two more seasons at salaries of $3.25 million in 2019 and $4.5 million in 2020.
But here’s the key. The contract structure compels the Jaguars to make a quick decision on Hyde. His 2019 base salary becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the league year, and he earns a separate $1 million roster bonus that same day. To avoid another $4.25 million investment in Hyde, the Jaguars would need to cut him or trade him before those payments come due.
For now, though, it seems that the Jaguars plan to keep Hyde around for the balance of the season. Which gives him to make good on an eerily prescient vow made last December after the 49ers beat Jacksonville: “Next year, we’re going to win the Super Bowl.”