Grievance appeal expected as Jaguars void Fournette’s contract guarantees
In this Nov. 18, 2018, file photo, Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette, left, runs for yardage during the first half of a a game in Jacksonville, Fla. | Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP

Well football fans, we made it to 2019. The NFL postseason is upon us, the government shutdown drags on, and the 116th Congress—the most diverse Congress ever one should add—goes into full session Thursday afternoon.

And, with the start of the new year, we can expect heart-stopping, freight-train-tackling, fist-pounding action on the football field and in our nation’s capital.

But, before we start shouting out NFL Wild Card predictions, or criticizing incoming freshmen legislators, let’s look back at a development that got buried under everything else.

Late Sunday, Dec. 31, the Jacksonville Jaguars notified running back Leonard Fournette they were voiding the remaining salary guarantees in the fourth overall pick’s four-year rookie contract, according to an Associated Press report.

The Jaguars said Fournette’s one-game suspension last month, after leaving the bench and getting into a fight with Buffalo Bills defensive end Shawn Lawson Nov. 25, voided his remaining guarantees. The decision was confirmed Monday by coach Doug Marrone.

The team’s decision would cost Fournette $7.1 million of his remaining salary over the next two years.

After Sunday’s 20-3 loss against Houston, the Jaguars executive vice-president had some harsh words: “I am disappointed in the behavior today from T.J. Yeldon and Leonard Fournette,” Coughlin said. “They were disrespectful, selfish, and their behavior was unbecoming of that of a professional football player.”

Fournette and Coughlin were seen spending most of the season finale on the bench, uninterested in the game, not engaging with teammates.

With the Jaguars confirmed action, it is expected Fournette and the NFL Players Association will file a non-injury grievance against the team. Based on Fournette’s contract, it’s unclear if the team is able to void guarantees after a one-game suspension and fine.

Under the current NFL-NFLPA collective bargaining agreement, conduct detrimental to the club—fighting in this case—will see players fined a maximum amount equal to one week’s salary, or suspension without pay not to exceed four weeks.

Of course, everything will depend on the language in Fournette’s contract, but just by looking at the union contract’s discipline policy, the termination of salary guarantees seems extreme.

This end-of-season incident is accompanied by a rowdy season for Fournette who missed eight games due to injury and discipline. Fournette missed six full games and half of two others with a right hamstring injury in the first eight weeks of the season and was suspended without pay for the Dec. 2 game against Indianapolis.

If Fournette loses his grievance appeal, the Jaguars would be able to cut him without experiencing any future financial obligations. It would also make trading him more lucrative for other teams given the reduced financial risk.

Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell will return next season.

“We have a way to go, and that starts with me,” Marrone said. “When you sit here and ask about the culture and what it may be, maybe it’s not, that falls on me. I did not do a good job there, period. That’s one of the things I’m hard on myself, but I’m also honest with myself.

“At the end of the day, we can talk about this player or that player and the locker room and all of that. That’s all on me. That’s all on me.”

With such a high level of unrest already between Fournette and the team, this next round could get ugly. We’ll just have to wait and see.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.