Littered underneath all of the Tim Tebow coverage over the last couple of days since the New England Patriots unexpectedly signed "the enigma" that is Tebow, the Baltimore Ravens made yet another roster move that continued their makeover from last year's Super Bowl team that defeated the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Playoffs.
Fullback Vonta Leach was officially released by the Ravens today, marking the ninth starter of the 2012 Baltimore team that won't be playing for the Ravens this season.
General Manager Ozzie Newsome did leave open the possibility of Leach returning to the team after Vonta looks over his free agency options.
"We could revisit this before or during training camp," Newsome said.
According to Mike Garafolo of that very same article of USA Today Sports:
Leach will travel to Miami to meet with the Dolphins, a person informed of the meeting told USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team hasn't confirmed the meeting.
The person also said the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs might soon be in play for Leach, whom the Ravens would welcome back at the right price.
For those that don't pay much attention to the fullback position, Leach has been the cream of the crop of that position for the last few years. He's been named to the last three Pro Bowls—including the last two since signing with the Ravens as a free agent in the 2011 offseason.
On the NFL Network's Top 100 list of 2011, he was named the 65th-best player in the NFL. The following year, he was named the 45th-best player in the NFL.
While with the Ravens, he was the highest-paid fullback in the league, earning $11 million over the course of a three-year contract.
This is obviously not a performance-based cut—the three-time Pro Bowler is accepted by his peers as the best player at his position—albeit a dying position at that.
And so we focus in on that excerpt from that USA Today article—the Denver Broncos might soon be in play for Leach.
The question is, should the Broncos sign Leach? Should they even seriously ponder the idea of bringing in the best fullback in the league?
Let's consider why Leach was released in the first place by the Ravens:
As mentioned earlier, the University of East Carolina product was the highest-paid fullback in the NFL during his two years in Baltimore.
He always lived up to his billing as the best fullback in the league, not only being named to three Pro Bowls and annually being named as one of The Top 100 Players in the NFL, but the stats back up these accolades.
Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus states that with Leach on the field, Ravens running back Ray Rice ran 206 times for 869 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012. Minus Leach on the field, Rice ran for 582 yards and just one touchdown.
Those stats just reinforce that Leach was not cut based upon his performance—like most of the Ravens' departures over the last three months, it was Vonta's contract that posed problems for the Ravens.
As the highest-paid fullback in the league, he was owed $3 million this year with about $1.33 million in bonus money for a total cap hit of $4.33 million in 2013.
Newsome backs up this reason by bringing up the possibility of bringing back the fullback for the 2013 season.
So if Leach is still a quality player, and the best player at his position, why shouldn't the Broncos sign him?
Doesn't Fit the Scheme
The East Carolina product is the top player at a dying position—a dying position that the Denver Broncos never utilize.
Remember fullback Chris Gronkowski? The guy who was acquired through trade during the 2012 offseason to replace the departed Spencer Larsen?
Well, Gronkowski played—except it wasn't on offense—it was on special teams.
Larsen—the starting fullback of the 2011 team—was often utilized at his natural position due to the Broncos' read-option offense with Tim Tebow at quarterback and Willis McGahee at running back. It was a necessity to utilize a fullback on most of those plays for blocking purposes.
With the signing of Peyton Manning in 2012, the Broncos completely rid themselves of the read-option offense in favor of a more pro-style offense, that one that Manning utilized for many years in Indianapolis with ex-offensive coordinator Tom Moore.
In Jeff Legwold's "Question of the Day" article on the Denver Post from November of last year, Legwold demonstrates Denver's non-existent usage of the fullback, relating to the type of formations that they ran during regular season games in October and November of 2012:
The Broncos ran far more two-back looks early in the season and may have to tweak the approach if they want to get more running backs on the field. The team has almost been exclusively a three-wide receiver team over the last two games.
Against the Chargers, the Broncos were in a three-receiver look for every snap of the first half and were in three wide for all but a smattering of snaps in the second half. In the second half against the Chargers, they played a three-tight end look for one play in the third quarter and played two tight ends for two snaps on their last drive.
That trend only continued the following week, in a victory over the Chiefs in Week 12:
This past Sunday, in the win over the Chiefs, the team stayed in a three-wide look for all but one play. They played one snap of three tight ends, with eight minutes to go in the game, and on two of the three wide receiver snaps they did play Trindon Holliday as the third receiver and he was lined up in the backfield.
For most of Peyton Manning's career, his teams have utilized the fact that he is such a superb passer by utilizing every skill position player possible in the passing game.
What does that mean? As Legwold mentioned, plenty of three-receiver sets—which will only increase with the signing of Wes Welker—and plenty of two tight end looks, especially considering the Broncos have a plethora of receiving options at tight end in Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen and Julius Thomas.
Which means what for a player of Leach's caliber?
A Waste of Talent
The Broncos would not only be wasting Leach's talent—but also be wasting a valuable roster spot that could be used for a position of need, or for a young player that could be developed over the next few years.
Not only that, but although the Broncos aren't in as dire a cap situation as their AFC-rival Ravens are currently under, and though Leach won't command a $4.33 million cap hit as he was previously due in 2013—considering Leach balked at Baltimore's offers of re-structuring his contract in which he would have made the same amount of money in 2013 after re-structuring, except this time, with performance-based incentives—it's unlikely Leach settles for the bare minimum from the Broncos.
It's nice that the Broncos are looking into adding a player the caliber of Leach—heck, the Broncos have been doing it all offseason with acquisitions such as Welker—but considering the Broncos' lack of use for a fullback and the cap hit/roster spot that Leach would command along the way, the Broncos are better off just taking a pass on this Pro Bowl player.