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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After more than a month on the open market, veteran fullback Vonta Leach realized his best bet was to stay with the Ravens after all.
The three-time Pro Bowl selection agreed to a two-year deal to return for a third season in Baltimore. Leach received some interest from Miami, Houston, and the New York Giants, but the Ravens ultimately offered the best deal and opportunity for the 31-year-old.
He went through his physical and passed his conditioning test on Monday at the Ravens’ Owings Mills facility before signing the deal. Coach John Harbaugh announced after Monday’s practice that the contract was being finalized .
“Having Vonta back gives you a physical presence for sure with your offense, short yardage, goal line,” Harbaugh said. “Also, it’s a leadership presence. Obviously, we’ve been hopeful that this would happen all along.”
Leach was originally slated to make a $3 million base salary in the final season of a three-year contract he signed in the summer of 2011 before general manager Ozzie Newsome tried to cut his salary. It was believed that the Ravens would include incentives in their new deal with the bruising fullback.
Newsome deemed Leach expendable after the Ravens drafted Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth round of April’s draft. However, Baltimore made it clear that Leach could be an option to return if he found a lukewarm free-agent market for his services. Juszczyk has also struggled to block in short-yardage situations in a handful of training camp practices.
With Leach now in the fold, Juszczyk could be shifted to more of an H-back tight end role to help offset the void of Pitta in the passing game.
“It’s good to have two fullbacks,” Harbaugh said. “It will be valuable to us. There will be plenty of reps for both of those guys. We’ll find ways to get them on the field.”
Entering his 10th season, Leach played in all 16 games in each of his two seasons with the Ravens and has earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in three straight seasons. He’s received only 21 total carries in those two seasons but made 36 receptions for 212 yards over that stretch.
With the loss of tight end Dennis Pitta for the entire season that further depletes an inexperienced group of wide receivers and tight ends, the Ravens could lean more heavily on their running game, making Leach an even better fit for a return as the punishing blocker to open running lanes for Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice and top backup Bernard Pierce.
Leach is expected to return to the practice field on Wednesday with players off on Tuesday.