The Baltimore Ravens and fullback Vonta Leach were unable to reach a compromise to restructure the veteran's contract and as a result, the Ravens are expected to release or trade the Pro Bowl lead blocker as soon as Tuesday, according to sources.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty aggressively attempted to work it out with Leach, but were ultimately unsuccessful, a league source said.
Roughly an hour after The Baltimore Sun reported that he would be leaving the organization, Leach acknowledged the news via his official Twitter account.
"Thank Ravens organization for a great two years," Leach wrote. "I came here and did what we set out to do and that's win the Super Bowl. My time here is up but what we accomplished, we will forever be linked."
Leach was due a $3 million base salary and carries a $4.33 million salary-cap figure. So, the Ravens will save a total of $3 million against the salary cap while still carrying $1.33 million in dead money from the prorated portion of Leach's three-year, $11 million contract that included a $4 million signing bonus.
As the top fullback in the NFL, Leach is expected to be in heavy demand as a free agent with multiple teams expected to pursue him.
The Ravens won't have to search for his replacement after drafting Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth round in April. At 6-foot-1, 248 pounds, Juszczyk still has to establish himself as a blocking presence in the NFL.
Juszczyk, who caught 125 career passes in the Ivy League for 1,576 yards and 22 touchdowns before excelling at the Senior Bowl, is expected to have a versatile, pass-catching role that includes lining up at fullback, tight end and H-back
Blocking for Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice for the past two seasons, Leach, 31, contributed heavily to the Ravens' running game.
Leach only played in 42 percent of the Ravens' offensive snaps last season and had 22 snaps during the Ravens' Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Few offenses in today's NFL feature an old-school fullback like Leach.
The Ravens signed Juszczyk to a four-year, $2.46 million rookie contract that includes a $300,584 signing bonus.
Still, Leach’s loss will be felt both on the field and in the locker room, where he was one of the most respected Ravens due to his toughness and selflessness.
In two seasons with the Ravens for whom he played in every game, Leach had 21 total carries for 67 yards and a touchdown and 36 catches for 212 yards.
Each time he got the ball at M&T Bank Stadium, he was serenaded with a chorus of “LEEEEEEACH,” similar to the treatment that tight end Todd Heap and safety Ed Reed got during their time with the Ravens.
However, carrying the ball was never the burly fullback’s role. Leading Rice through holes, Leach injected toughness to the Ravens’ offense with his fearless and physical blocking style that earned him a reputation as the NFL’s best pure fullback.
With Leach showing the way, Rice rushed for a career high 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011. Rice then had 1,143 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in 2012 despite having his fewest carries since his rookie season in 2008.
In the Ravens’ 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, Leach was on the field for just 22 offensive plays.
The Ravens did run the ball more after Jim Caldwell took over offensive coordinator duties from the fired Cam Cameron in December. However, they also opened up the passing attack, using three wide receivers and a tight end and often leaving Leach on the sidelines.
Juszczyk, who was considered the top fullback in the draft and was a two-time All-American at Harvard, said that he was looking forward to learning under Leach. However, he’ll now inherit a bigger role and likely be used as a less-traditional fullback, which suits his skill set. Juszczyk was Harvard’s leading receiver last year and he lined up at fullback, tight end and even as a slot receiver.
After the draft, Newsome said that he could foresee both Juszczyk and Leach on the same roster. However, he didn’t say definitively that Leach would be back to finish out his contract.
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