Fullback Vonta Leach is a reigning three-time All-Pro, yet he's played on two teams since 2010 and now finds himself jobless.
In a surprise move, the Baltimore Ravens released Leach after they realized they wouldn't be able to trade him, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter:
After failing to find a trade partner, Ravens now have released FB Vonta Leach.—Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 11, 2013
Leach is a 6'0'', 260-pound wrecking ball of a player, who'll be 32 in November.
Leach went undrafted in 2004 out of East Carolina, and after unsuccessful stints with the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints, he caught on with the Houston Texans in 2006.
Leach played well enough to start 28 games from 2007 to 2009.
In 2010, the lead-blocking fullback truly made his mark in the NFL by paving the way for the breakout campaign of fellow undrafted runner Arian Foster.
Here are a few snapshots from Foster's coming out party that took place in the season-opening thrashing of the Indianapolis Colts that year:
The Texans clearly wanted to utilize Leach's blocking ability to run the ball down the throat of the Colts defense, and it worked.
Foster ended the day with 33 carries for 231 yards and three touchdowns.
After a tremendous campaign that year—one in which Foster and Leach earned All-Pro honors—the four-year, $8 million contract the fullback signed in 2007 expired, and he was signed by the Ravens.
His new deal was for three-years and was worth up to $11 million with $6 million guaranteed, which made him the highest-paid fullback in the NFL.
Leach played well road-grading for Ray Rice in 2011 and 2012, and was elevated, in most circles, to "best fullback" status.
Here's how ProFootballFocus.com, rated him as a lead-blocker over the last three years (subscription required):
The table illustrates that, if anything, Leach is improving as a run-blocker, which in theory, should make him a hot commodity, especially for teams like the Texans and Ravens, which run the football often.
However, the fullback was used less frequently by offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell than he was by Caldwell's predecessor Cam Cameron—on average, six fewer snaps per game.
Why He's Been Released
Leach is an established lead-blocker who can devastate linebackers and cornerbacks at the second level. There's no doubting that.
But teams simply aren't willing to pay a traditional fullback upwards of $3-$4 million per season anymore, especially with the "H" back—a fullback/tight end hybrid—becoming much trendier on pass-happy clubs that utilize spread formations often.
Although the Texans have been a run-first team since Foster's emergence, they felt after the 2010 campaign that they could get by with James Casey in the H-back role at a much cheaper price than if they were to sign Leach to a huge deal.
The Ravens, a club that logged 444 rushing attempts in 2012, realized fourth-rounder Kyle Juszczyk would be a more cost-effective option than Leach heading into the 2013 season.
Leach's Future Viability
If a team is willing to dedicate a good chunk of change on a lead-blocking fullback, Leach would be a fine option.
At 32, he's definitely closer to the twilight of his career than his prime, but there's no reason to believe he can't be a valuable commodity in the right system.
While Vonta Leach doesn't pose much of a threat as a receiver—35 receptions over the last two years—he's a menacing and powerful lead blocker who can change the culture of a team's running game.