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Despite two Pro Bowl seasons in Baltimore, fullback Vonta Leach’s time with the Ravens has officially come to an end.
After Leach and the Ravens were unable to restructure the fullback’s current contract, the organization announced the termination of the 31-year-old’s contract Tuesday morning. Leach was in the final year of a three-year, $11 million contract that included a $4 million signing bonus.
Leach announced on his official Twitter account Monday evening that his time with the Ravens had come to an end, confirming the initial reports about his impending departure.
“Thank [Ravens] organization for a great two years,” he 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 be forever linked. Thank the fans for accepting me and my family to [Baltimore].”
Leach’s status had been in jeopardy since the start of the offseason when the Ravens faced the perils of needing to sign franchise quarterback Joe Flacco without a great deal of salary-cap space. However, Leach survived the initial wave of salary dumps that included wide receiver Anquan Boldin by way of a trade and the releases of safety Bernard Pollard, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, and reserve guard Bobbie Williams.
The Ravens selected Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth round of April’s draft, which clearly wasn’t a good sign for Leach’s long-term status with the organization. The veteran wasn’t present for the first two weeks of organized team activities but practiced last week and had expressed optimism that the sides would be able to restructure his current deal, which carried a $3 million base salary and $4.3 million cap figure for the 2013 season.
General manager Ozzie Newsome had explored trade possibilities before releasing the blocking back but left the door open for Leach’s return should he not find a free-agent offer to his liking. Considered by many to be the best fullback in the NFL, Leach wouldn’t figure to have too much difficulty in finding a new home.
“He played a significant role in helping us get to the AFC championship game in 2011 and win the Super Bowl last season,” Newsome said in a team statement. “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,”
With Leach opening running lanes by way of his bruising blocking style, Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice rushed for a career-high 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns two seasons ago and credited the big fullback for being a major difference maker in the running game.
Of course, many will question why the Ravens waited until now to make the cap-saving move with few free-agent options of any significance remaining. Prior to Leach’s release, Baltimore had roughly $3 million in cap space remaining with all but one of their 10 draft picks — first-round safety Matt Elam being the exception — already signed to four-year contracts.
The Ravens also announced the re-signing of veteran Billy Bajema, who served as the third tight end last season. He will take Leach’s spot on the Ravens’ 90-man offseason roster.