The tweets started rolling in, not long after the news came out that fullback Vonta Leach and weak-side linebacker Jameel McClain had been let go by the Ravens.
“Leach n Jameel are 2 guys I can go to war with any day hate to see this but good luck in the future I know you guys will be A ok!,” wrote offensive tackle Michael Oher.
“Best of luck to @JameelMcClain. He was one guy that really helped me stay positive in rough times during my IR rookie year this last year!,” wrote defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore.
It’s not uncommon for players to take to Twitter and react to a teammate getting traded or released. However, as the messages above indicate, you’d be hard pressed to find two Ravens who were more respected and beloved in the locker room than Leach and McClain.
Leach made the NFL as an undrafted free agent and for 10 professional seasons, he’s taken on linebackers head-on, engaging in collision after collision while rarely reaping the reward of a handoff. One of the best at arguably the game’s most thankless position, Leach has played in 146 career games and has 35 total carries. Yet, he still made three Pro Bowl teams.
McClain persevered through a difficult childhood in Philadelphia, where he was homeless at times. He went from an undrafted free agent to a starter alongside Ray Lewis on one of the game’s most vaunted defenses. Not the most physically gifted player, McClain became a key performer on defense and special teams. His career was in jeopardy after he suffered a spinal cord contusion late in the 2012 season, but McClain worked hard to get back on the field and would up starting the Ravens’ final 10 games last season.
Neither player made excuses or pointed fingers during tough times. Both played through injuries and were among the vocal leaders on their respective units. During the so-called mutiny of the 2012 season, McClain was one of the players who spoke up against several teammates and put the onus on the players rather than blaming John Harbaugh and the coaching staff.
But with all both meant to the team in terms of leadership and inspiration, the reality was that the decision to let go of both players was considered a no brainer. It was the right “business” decision.
Leach would have counted $2.3 million against the salary cap, a high number for a player who averaged less than eight offensive snaps per game over the Ravens’ final six contests. McClain had a salary cap hit of $4.4 million, also a high number for someone who essentially played on only running downs and was going to have to hold off Arthur Brown for the starting weak-side linebacker job.
General Manager Ozzie Newsome didn’t rule out bringing both players back, and that’s exactly what they did last year after initially cutting Leach.
However, as things stand, the Ravens will go forward without both players. The decision makes perfect sense. The Ravens have several holes and they need every bit of salary cap space that they can create.
But it’s still never easy to say goodbye to two players who embodied what team officials describe as “playing like a Raven.”