COMMENTARY | What seemed like an inevitable roster move a few weeks ago is finally becoming a reality.
According to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, the Baltimore Ravens are preparing to release veteran fullback Vonta Leach.
The move could happen as soon as Tuesday, as the Ravens will first try to trade Leach before releasing him. Leach is due a base salary of $3 million in 2013, with a salary-cap figure of $4.33 million.
For a team that could use some breathing room financially as training camp looms and talented players could hit the open market, getting rid of Leach's cap figure is a huge relief.
But, releasing the best fullback in the NFL can't get dismissed as just a money-saving decision that won't hurt the team. Even though Baltimore Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell doesn't incorporate a fullback heavily into his play-calling repertoire, Leach's incomparable ability to pave the way for trailing running backs helped open up the entire offense during his two-year tenure in Baltimore.
He helped running back Ray Rice develop into one of the league's premier ball carriers, and was also one of quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite check-down targets. In 2012, used primarily as a security blanket and last resort for Flacco, Leach caught 21 passes out of the backfield for 143 yards.
While his talent will be noticeably missed, the Ravens are still capable of moving forward without him. The bright side for the Ravens is that while Leach was one of the offense's best players last season, he was in the game for just 42 percent of the snaps.
Regardless of Leach's skill, his position overshadowed his talent. The traditional fullback position in the NFL is a dying breed, with tight ends and H-back types usually assuming fullback duties.
That is where rookie Kyle Juszczyk comes into play for Baltimore without Leach in the mix.
The fullback/tight end out of Harvard was selected in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Ravens, and figures to take over for Leach moving forward. The difference between the two, though, is that Juszczyk is more of a tight end than fullback.
Leach was rarely lined up as a slot receiver, and when he was, he didn't contribute heavily. Juszczyk will develop into one of the Ravens' top tight ends while still handling the fullback duties. In 2013, Caldwell will likely implement more shotgun passing plays, which should make Juszczyk's receiving skills more valuable.
Even though Leach's presence will be missed in Baltimore, Juszczyk is the right type of new-age hybrid that is becoming a staple in NFL offenses.
Kyle Casey is a sports writer and college student living in Baltimore, Md. He maintains his own football site, End Zone Report, and contributes to Russell Street Report, a Baltimore Ravens blog.
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