Unable to agree on a restructured contract with the Ravens, fullback Vonta Leach now finds himself unemployed. He appeared to say his goodbyes to the Ravens on Twitter this evening. In the NFL, it’s not often that the best player at their position doesn’t have job security, but that was the case for Leach, who was underutilized despite his $3 million base salary.
Leach was a locker room leader and extremely well respected amongst his peers. Cutting a three-time Pro Bowl player who hasn’t declined on the field seems atypical, but it was a business decision for all parties involved – even Leach.
Once Jim Caldwell took over for Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator, questions surfaced about Leach’s involvement in the offense moving forward. Leach had already played in under 50 percent of offensive snaps (41 percent to be exact), and his role decreased under Caldwell. If Leach wanted to remain with the Ravens in 2013, it seemed that he would have to take a pay cut. All the leverage moved towards the side of the franchise after drafting Harvard FB Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth round this past April.
Leach gave defenders a taste of their own medicine, often delivering bone crushing blows while blocking for his Pro Bowl backfield-mate, Ray Rice. While Leach will be missed in Baltimore, most of the concern with his release has to revolve around what type of impact it will have on Rice – who was just as much of a friend as a teammate to Leach.
Rice will likely crack the top 15 on NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2012 countdown, and I would expect him to be poised for a repeat performance, even without Leach. However, it may be in a different way than we’re accustomed to.
With Rice and Bernard Pierce both in the backfield and Leach not added in to tip off which plays are runs, opposing defenses literally have to be on their toes at all times.
Last month, Rice stated his intentions to become more involved in the Ravens passing game, and that may be by default given Leach’s absence. Rice hasn’t had fewer than 60 catches in a season since his rookie year, but his involvement as a target for Joe Flacco may evolve even more in 2013.
Without Leach’s protection, Rice becomes a vulnerable target as a runner, and his body may begin to break down if he can’t protect himself from defenses piling up on him play after play. Pierce may not be as muscular, but he’ll likely be counted on more for the power running game and to absorb more hits.
Unless you’re related to either Pierce or Juszczyk, you don’t likely believe that they’re going to be more effective in the power running game than Rice and Leach were in years past. However, Pierce and Juszczyk are inexpensive and can help take some of the workload from Rice, who will look to stay fresh as long as possible into the grueling season.
Cutting Leach may not have been the most popular option around Baltimore, but it was necessary considering the financial constraints against the team with limited salary cap flexibility. The Ravens won a Super Bowl with Leach standing on the sidelines more often than not; I’m fine with the release even though I think they’ll miss his contributions in the locker room.
If someone was going to be consuming $3 million per season and only on the field 41 percent of the time, most would likely chose it to be spent on a wide receiver not currently on the roster.
Leach was fun to watch, but only at a certain price. His agents have likely already had discussions with other teams (not legal but it always happens). I’d fully expect Leach to be in a new uniform very soon, or else why would he have been so confident to turn down a Ravens counter offer?