OWINGS MILLS - The Baltimore Ravens officially released Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach Tuesday morning after failing to agree with Leach on a restructured deal.
"We've had lots of discussion in the past week with Vonta and his agent, and both parties agreed that it was best to terminate Vonta's contract," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. "He played a significant role in helping us get to the AFC Championship game in 2011 and win the Super Bowl last season.
"He added to our toughness and will to win, plus he provided leadership. He's a good football player. There could be an opportunity for him to return to the Ravens once he explores the free agent market, and we could re-visit this before or during training camp."
A Leach return appears unlikely, though, as the three-time Pro Bowl fullback is expected to garner significant interest as a free agent.
Leach, 31, is still regarded as the top player at his position in the NFL. But his role with Baltimore had greatly diminished as the Ravens transitioned to more of a wide-open, up-tempo offense, and Leach carried a $4.33 million cap figure, one of the largest figures on the team.
Leach had also become more expendable once Baltimore selected fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth round of the NFL draft in April. Juszczyk was the consensus top-rated fullback in this year's draft and is a versatile player who could see time for the Ravens as a traditional fullback, as an H-back and possibly even as a tight end.
Cutting Leach creates $3 million of additional cap space for Baltimore, which entered the week with reportedly just more than $3 million in cap space.
Leach was set to enter the third and final year of the three-year, $11 million contract he signed with the Ravens in 2011.
"Vonta's been as much the heart and soul of this team as anybody since he's been here," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said after Thursday's minicamp practice. "He's been a great leader. He's been a tremendous performer. I've never had more fun with a player since he's been there, personally as a coach, than I have had with Vonta.
"He's just a great guy, and he established us in a lot of ways. He established the personality of our offense as a physical, hard-nosed unit over the last couple years. I wish him nothing but the best, and I'm sure he'll do really well, and I'm sorry to see him go."
WORKING BACK: Ravens Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda was a non-participant in Thursday's minicamp practice due to an unspecified injury, but Harbaugh said he expects Yanda back by training camp "to some degree."
Yanda dealt with shoulder and knee injuries last season, although Harbaugh declined to elaborate on what Yanda is working back from at this point.
"He's done a great job with the rehab," Harbaugh said. "He's right on schedule, probably ahead of schedule."
BACK IN THE MIX: The Ravens re-signed veteran tight end Billy Bajema Tuesday morning after releasing Leach.
Bajema played in 12 games for Baltimore last season (including the playoffs) and will compete with undrafted free agent Matt Furstenburg and Alex Silvestro, a practice squad player for the Ravens last year, for a reserve tight end job behind Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson.
Bajema, 30, has just 38 catches in eight NFL seasons, but he provides value as a blocker.
Bajema started 50 games during his first seven NFL seasons, including 12 for the St. Louis Rams in 2011.
"We have been in contact with Billy throughout the offseason about the possibility of him coming back," Harbaugh said. "We have some good, young tight ends in the mix. Those guys have done very well. He adds some competition into that. Billy's a guy that we know, we trust, we like, and I'm happy to have him back."